Overlord – 2018
Director Julius Avery
Screenplay Billy Ray, Mark L. Smith
Starring Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Gianny Taufer, Pilou Asbæk, Bokeem Woodbine, Jacob Anderson, Iain De Caestecker
At some point after last February’s Cloverfield: Paradox, there was an indication that the next film in the series was going to take place in WWII. One might fairly assume that the horrible performance of that Netflix dud forced a course correction, and they veered towards keeping this an original story. If they’d stuck to their guns, it might have negatively affected box office at first, but it also would have placed the series at 2 – 2 good films to bad.
There is such an adrenaline rush in the opening minutes to Overlord, it forces the viewer in an IMAX theater to look past the common tropes of the characters preparing for a drop on occupied France prior to D-Day. Our main protagonist, Adepo’s Pvt. Boyce, is a clean slate. He’s ragged on by some soldiers, and doted on by others. Adepo, who was impressive in Fences, has a fresh face that is perfect for the role of a relatively new recruit pressed into action. We don’t know much about him. What we find out about him may not surprise much, but it is well-played.
He is countered by his defacto leader Cpl. Ford, played by Wyatt Russell. For those who are aware of Russell’s famous lineage, this is the film will be rewarding. His presence is reminiscent of his father, Kurt, while his blonde locks were inherited by his mother Goldie Hawn. This is the role one might hope the son of two actors of their caliber would fill with a plenitude of character. The role could be silly in the hands of an actor with less ability. Russell gives it the same brand of doomed grist that his father has injected in his latter-day roles. It’s gives one pleasure to think he might be able to inject just a little of Kurt’s talent, or better, develop it to some new hybrid.
The two paratroopers seem to be the only survivors of a mission to take out a Nazi communication tower within a French town that has been ravaged by the S.S. Conveniently, there is also a resource under this church tower. What the German scientists are doing with this resource should be obvious to anyone who has seen the myriad commercials for the film. Or anyone who thinks a passing thought about the cliché of the German scientist of WWII.
The troopers meet up with a few of their fellow troopers. The cast is enough to fill the roles we see in most films about troops across the border with a mission and a deadline. The characters are entertaining, though. We get to see a real rapport begin to form when we really expect to just see more bodies pile up.
There is a French resistance figure, in the form of the excellent Ollivier. She shows vulnerability that makes her resolve much more enjoyable. I have a feeling we’ll see more of this French actress in the next few years.
As for bad guys, they got lucky with Michael Shannon look-alike Asbæk. His ability to take turns as murderer, rapist and megalomaniac creates a truly detestable character.
There are several cool moments in this film that feel borrowed from other films. This doesn’t diminish their enjoyability. Avery’s ability to mix sight and sound is jarringly good most of the time. Whether this can be replicated in a home theater depends on your system, The acting of Adepo and Russell push beyond the limits of their characters as presented in the script. The combination creates an enjoyable and fresh feeling film that treads delicately over occupied territory on its way to a brutal, but successful mission.
(**** out of *****)