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We want to like this James Cromwell war flick - we really do. But....
Image / 108 Minutes / 2011 / Unrated / Street Date: May 29, 2012
Because it's a flag-waving investigation about the horrors of war and the men and women who have soldiered through it, one feels a subtle blip of guilt tearing Memorial Day apart. There's an innate nobility to a grandfather telling his grandson about the particulars of battle he has experienced, and when that grandson grows up to become an army sergeant in modern Iraq, that scenario becomes even more crystalline and sacred, but Memorial Day takes these lucid, fertile dramatic instances and absolutely wastes them.
Its heart is in the right place, but Memorial Day is a groaner of an armed forces weepie, a painfully overwrought picture that neither offers authentic emotional material nor delivers any sort of profound statement on the hells of war. James Cromwell turns in a grand performance as the stoically understated veteran at the crux of the film, and the movie's design is certainly up to snuff, yet while one definitely wants to like Memorial Day, it just doesn't make a case for itself.
We basically get three story arcs here. One is a flashback-within-a-flashback of young Bud (John Cromwell - James' actual son) fighting in WWII Europe, another is a mid-1990s cross-section where young Kyle (Jackson Bond) asks his grandfather (the elder Cromwell) about the war, and a flash-forward to 2005, where an adult Kyle (Jonathan Bennett) battles in the trenches in the Middle East. The film wants to create a thematic parallel between the two warzones, but its presentation is so heavy-handed that we get its unmistakable point really early on.
War film buffs might find some solace in Memorial Day's action sequences - there aren't many, but when they do appear, they zip along - but as a whole, this battle film is too mushy and emotionally one-note than it should be. The labyrinths of war's effect on its soldiers are vast, terrfiying, and (fortunately for us as viewers) rich with dramatic material, but Memorial Day keeps any unique statement on the subject from us. It desperately aims to be a proverbial good war movie, but it fails to convince.