I think realism, the bloody, gritty, scary elements to war, is what makes a film from that genre successful. That is why I usually avoid any older war films, like The Longest Day, The Eagle has Landed or even Zulu. I always believe the best war films show the grittiness of war and portray the horrors, like Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. I definitely didn’t think you could have a classic, comedic film about World War 2. I was wrong though…
Kelly’s Heroes is funny. From the very beginning, when we meet our bombarded, desperate and dishevelled platoon of soldiers, we get comedy moments that had me laughing straight away and effectively set the tone for the film. This wasn’t going to be movie where it made light of the war. Instead it would be a film where it highlighted the chaotic and farcical side of the war and it picked incredible actors to do it.
The (Private) Kelly of the title is played by Clint Eastwood. Not particularly the most acclaimed of comedic actors but this works because he is surrounded by men so crazy (literally in some cases) and events so unusual that to have his dead-pan, straight-man expressions at each situation just highlights how farcical the events are. He is joined by the brilliant Telly Savalas who plays the no-nonsense Big Joe and is introduced when he is barking orders at a German General, trying to find a nice place in France to stay and get a shower. The third actor making up this great cast, and the best character in the whole film, is the (literally it seems) crazy Sgt. Oddball who has his own tank division and enjoys doing impressions of dogs. Every moments Sutherland’s character is on-screen, the film is better for it.
The story isn’t exactly original, its one that has been done loads of times before, as a small group of soldiers decide to go in search of “Nazi Gold.” Eastwood’s Kelly leads these soldiers but soon realises it won’t be as discreet as easy as he’d hoped as the gold is behind enemy lines and the amount of soldiers finding out about the heist keeps growing.
It becomes a film of two parts. The first part being the planning and getting to the small village where the gold is being kept, which is where we get the great introduction to each character and we slowly see Kelly’s well-thought out plan falling apart around him. The second part is the execution of the plan and the taking of the gold in a Nazi occupied village. It gives the film the perfect blend of tension, humour and most importantly for a war film, action. In fact I was really impressed with the action moments, not really suffering considering the age of the film.
Kelly’s Heroes does a great job of representing the “horrors” of war that I mentioned at the beginning of the review. You get to know the men on the heist so when some of them do, inevitably, lose their lives, because it is such a small, close-knit group, the effect is so much more. There are moments of pause and reflection and you can see the effects on the war-weary soldiers. The fact that they are so war-weary, tired and experienced also highlights the ordeal these men have been through before the events of the film.
This doesn’t mean it becomes a dark or sombre film, in fact its a very light, funny movie. It’s a film that would very easily be a watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon and the story reflects that. It builds up great, intertwining, ever-increasing events that come to a head nicely, if not a little conveniently for everyone involved. It’s such an enjoyable film though that you shouldn’t really mind.
Overall, Kelly’s Heroes has great actors, a great story and is a very funny war film without being “carry on soldier.” Eastwood is fantastic as the hard faced Kelly but I defy anyone not find Sutherland’s Oddball hilarious. It doesn’t stray away from the fact its a film about a horrific event in history but instead uses it to help tell a farcical but enjoyable story.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)