In December of 1944, with the world at war and Christmas approaching, a small U.S. Army Intelligence squad is sent to a deserted chateau near the German lines. The squad, which was decimated during the Battle of the Bulge, is made up of six young soldiers who all have genius IQs. They’ve been hardened by war but they’re still young enough to have some hope for the future. Leading them is “Mother” Wilkinson (Gary Sinise), an officer who cares about his men but who has been mentally struggling with not only the war but also with the recent death of a child back home.
At first, the chateau seems like a perfect sanctuary, a place to wait for the war to end. But then the Americans discover that there is a regiment of German soldiers nearby. The Germans are just as young as the Americans and when the two groups meet each other, they don’t fire their guns but instead have a snowball fight. The Germans say that they know the war is about to end and that they want to surrender before the Russians arrive. However, the Germans are worried about their families back home and what will happen when word gets back that they’ve surrendered. They request a staged fight so that it will appear that they were captured in combat. Almost everyone is down with the plan but it turns out that it’s not easy to fake a war in the middle of a real one.
Based on a novel by William Wharton, A Midnight Clear is one of the best Christmas films that hardly anyone seems to have heard of. It’s a war film that is more concerned with the men who fight the wars than with the battles. Along with Sinise, the ensemble cast includes Ethan Hawke, Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Ayre Gross, Frank Whaley, and John C. McGinley and all of them make an impression, bringing their characters to life. By the end of the movie, you feel like you know each member of the squad and their individual fates hit you hard. Some of them make it to the next Christmas and tragically, some of them don’t. The film starts out almost gently and all of the soldiers are so intent on just letting the war end while they hide out at the chateau that you find yourself believing that it could actually happen. When reality intrudes, it’s tragic and poignant. Intelligently directed by Keith Gordon (making his directorial debut), A Midnight Clear is an unforgettable anti-war story that has an amazing final shot. A Midnight Clear makes an impression on Christmas and every other day.