Image Entertainment // 2011 // 104 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // May 22nd, 2012
Duty. Honor. Valor.
Memorial Day has its origins in the Civil War-era practice of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers (which is why it was originally known as Decoration Day). The practice spread throughout the country, though the date varied by region. Finally, the U.S. government fixed the date as the last Monday in May 1967 to create three-day weekends. Though I'm sure many Americans appreciate that three-day vacation, some veterans (especially those of World War II) have lobbied to return the holiday to its "original" date of May 30th because they feel a three-day weekend cheapens the memory of those who died serving their country. The film doesn't weigh in on the debate about our national holidays, but it does attempt to show the importance of remembering the experience of war, and not just those who died. Memorial Day's success will depend more on viewer predisposition than on the quality of the film.
Told in two parallel stories, our experience begins as 13-year-old Kyle is talking with his grandfather Bud (James Cromwell, L.A. Confidential) about his WWII experiences, before we see a grownup Kyle living through his own experiences in a different war in Iraq. These two wars are tied together by the memories of those who fought in them and the importance they play in one family.
Of the family members in my parents' generation, every single male I'm related to was in the military, including my father and four of my uncles. In my generation, only two out of my eight or so male cousins joined the military (and unlike their older relatives, they all did so in their mid-twenties rather than as teenagers). By the time I was old enough to hear war stories, all my relatives directly involved in WWII were dead, so the stories I grew up on concerned Vietnam. Without getting into specifics, I can say they weren't largely stories of heroism and the good fight that American put up against an evil enemy.
I mention all this because Memorial Day makes a very specific choice in telling its story, and that choice will likely determine the audience's response to the family drama. By setting the early parts of the film during the first Gulf War and grownup Kyle's experience during Iraq, the film implicitly links Bud's experiences in WWII to both of the U.S.'s forays into the Middle East. By showing how similar they are, the film provides a justification for American involvement in the region. For some that might not be a problem; Saddam was just another Hitler that the United States needed to take out of power. For other viewers, however, this choice to make stopping Saddam like stopping the Nazis will be too much of a stretch. For my money, I think the film would have been stronger if young Kyle had talked to an uncle who experienced Vietnam, which would have led to a more complex and complicated relationship to war and likely drawn in more viewers.
Looking past that make-or-break plot element, Memorial Day is a well-acted and solidly constructed drama. James Cromwell is always amazing to watch and the other actors hold their own with him. The decision to parallel the two war stories is an interesting one. Although this film doesn't look to have had the best budget, the combat scenes are effective and well deployed throughout the film.
For an independent film, Memorial Day (Blu-ray) is solid. The 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer looks appropriate for the budget. Detail is generally pretty strong, colors are well-saturated with accurate skin tones, and black levels are consistent and deep. It's not a reference disc, but this is a good way to see the film. The DTS-HD surround track is fine for the dialogue-driven nature of the film, and the surrounds come out occasionally during combat scenes.
Extras start with a fine commentary by the film's director (Sam Fischer), writer (Marc Conklin), and star (John Cromwell, who plays the younger Bud during the WWII scenes). The trio discuss the project's genesis and their own relationship to the film's themes. There's also a behind-the-scenes featurette that includes production footage.
Memorial Day is a well-made drama that explores the relationship between family, memory, and war. However, for some viewers, the film's equation between WWII and U.S. involvement in Iraq might be a bit too much to take. The film is worth a rental for those who want an interesting take on family and combat, but those critical of U.S. wars should steer clear.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site