A Surprisingly Good War Film
The Forgotten Battle is a well-written, gritty war movie that leans into its characters to deliver three parallel narratives. Those expecting a lot of action will be disappointed but the characters are well written and the way everything collides together naturally at the end serves as a nice way to conclude this film.
World War II is our setting and after a slick animation showing the advancement of the Allies across a map of Europe, the film wastes absolutely no time getting right to the heart of the drama. It’s September 1944 and the Allies have captured the port of Antwerp. However, celebrations are halted given the Germans still control the Scheldt estuary, preventing precious supplies from reaching Antwerp.
Walcheren Island is the key to the German’s defence, prompting Operation Market Garden – and the ensuing skirmishes beyond that – to be launched.
With three interwoven narratives, each leading to the same eventual conclusion, a handful of British troops are the primal focus of the front-line battles. Specifically, this falls to cocky William Sinclair, who begins as part of the RAF before crash-landing in Walcheren, stuck behind enemy lines and fighting for his – and his small band of comrades’ – lives.
Inside Walcheren, a Dutch teenager called Dirk stands up to the Germans but his actions lead to three soldiers losing their lives. This single action sees him go into hiding, kept in the basement and leaving his sister Teun in grave danger – and the narrative focus for the second plot.
The third and final story centers on Marinus, who happens to be a Dutch soldier who’s enlisted with the German army. Given the offensive is within his homeland, Marinus begins to question his purpose and just whose side he should be fighting on.
For the most part, the story does well although those expecting a lot of fighting and a non-stop chain of action and tension will be left disappointed. This is much closer to a character study and because of that, the middle portion of this film does tend to get bogged down as it shifts between the different players. However, sandwiched around this is are bursts of action, typified by a pretty exciting battle sequence lasting around 15-20 minutes at the end.
The action itself though is gritty, well shot and pretty accurate too. Now, I’m no historian but the guns and costume design all look authentic and there’s a real boots-on-the-ground feel that mirrors the tension and visceral action seen in Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan.
While the opening skirmish, involving a rocket launcher blowing up a tank is probably the best pick of the bunch, the action at the end should be enough to make the patient wait until that point worth it.
Visually, there are some absolutely stunning shots. One establishing scene late on, as the sky paints a murky grey and wisps of smoke cross the battlefield, paints silhouettes of Allied soldiers walking toward the camera. It’s hauntingly beautiful and these picturesque moments crop up throughout the movie.
There’s another as dawn rises across the water outside Walcheren, along with a particular highlight in the sky as the camera pans across to show the sheer number of Allied fighters joining the operation.
I mentioned before about visceral action but don’t go in expecting a lot of blood and guts. This is a film that’s much more interested in telling three consistent stories rather than throwing in buckets of blood and gore for shock value. There are still moments that grip you – such as a soldier missing an arm – but mostly this is a movie that focuses on telling a coherent story.
As far as war movies go though, The Forgotten Battle is surprisingly good – especially for a 2021 film. The action is well-choregraphed, the visuals are stunning and the three stories work well in the context of the time period. While it is perhaps a little too slow during the middle portion and the civilian story isn’t quite as strong as it could be, this is definitely one of the better movies released this year.
Verdict - 7.5/10