Only about a decade late, the boys and I recently watched, over a two-week period, the 10 episodes of "Band of Brothers." We started watching the DVDs on Netflix, and then a friend of Son #1 loaned us his Blu-Ray package of the series, which sped things up a bit.
At this late date there's little I can add to what has already been written - suffice to say that the series is an amazing piece of work, depicting the heroism and horrors of war with equal clarity.
Over on his old blog, TV critic Alan Sepinwall did a wonderful commentary for each episode, and there’s no way I can top that. You can read it here. I’ll just add a few random thoughts, focusing mostly on the characters and actors.
- Damian Lewis as Major Dick Winters. Throughout the entire series, Major Winters maintains a level of calm confidence that is truly inspiring. One of my favorite scenes of the entire series occurs in “Crossroads,” when Major Winters leads the charge on what very well could turn out to be a suicide mission. He doesn’t think about it; he just does it, setting the danger aside and doing the job the only way that he knows how. I can’t remember a single occasion in the entire series when Lewis (as Winters) has to raise his voice, but when he speaks, you know damn well that everyone is listening. A classic example of leading by example.
- Ron Livingston as Captain Lewis Nixon. For anyone who’s seen “Office Space,” Ron Livingston will forever be etched in the mind as Peter Gibbons. Had I seen “Band of Brothers” first, I might have thought differently about his performance as the man who never fires a shot, but pays a price just like those on the front lines. Livingston brings a world-weariness to the role that fits perfectly, particularly near the end when Livingston is desperately seeking that last bottle of Vat 69.
- Scott Grimes as TSgt. Donald Malarkey. When Scott Grimes first joined the cast of “ER,” I couldn’t stand him. By the time that series was over, Grimes had managed to completely transform the character – where he began as little more than comic relief, by the end he was a man and a doctor of substance, and is probably the only latter-year character that I’d place in the pantheon of characters from the early days. Grimes also does a great job as Malarkey, and the path toward greatness is similar. Malarkey starts out as a foil, someone to make the wisecrack, while the story then moves on to someone else. But after the horror of Bastogne, Malarkey is a changed man, and to see him in “The Last Patrol,” the 8th episode of the series, is to marvel at the ability of Grimes to pull it off. There are no wisecracks left in Malarkey, just pain and fatigue.
- Shane Taylor as Cpl. Eugene Roe. Although he appears in all 10 episodes, Taylor really only gets a chance to shine in “Bastogne,” and he pulls it off in spectacular fashion. Roe’s role as the company’s medic is more than he can bear, until that moment when he is able to pull it all together and continue to do his job. It’s a great performance.
- Matthew Settle as Cpl. Ronald Speirs. Throughout the series, Speirs is the ultimate enigma, the ultimate mystery. Forgive the pun, but Settle’s performance is truly unsettling. You’re never quite sure if Speirs is the ultimate iceman – risking his life in an awe-inspiring charge at Bastogne – or simply psychotic. The expression never wavers, the potential craziness always just under the surface. At the time of his promotion, he was exactly what his men needed.
I could go on and on, but those are the ones that stuck with me the most. I’d be hard-pressed to pick my favorite episode, though it was probably “Why We Fight” – and the shattering moment when the men of Easy Company find out that for others, the horrors of war were much worse than those suffered by the men carrying the guns.