Critical Condition: Five Came Back

Five Came Back (Netflix, from today)

“Filmmaking, as an art form, can be something more when wielded as a weapon. But what is that something more? In Five Came Back, a three-part docuseries based on Mark Harris’ bestselling book about five directors — John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens — who served in World War II to capture the carnage and crises close up, the answer turns out to be devastating and profound. And absorbing. Director Laurent Bouzereau, best known for creating ‘making of’ documentaries for Steven Spielberg’s films, expertly crafts a story that takes the viewer from the filmmakers’ antebellum careers to their post-war work, weaving their five tales together using interviews with five of today’s most notable directors.” — Entertainment Weekly.

Five Came Back does not cover any new territory but puts together the story in a new focus. It is not simply about the filmmakers but about what they saw — the indelible images of war. Along with the docuseries, Netflix has started streaming 13 related docs, including The Battle of Midway, The Battle of Russia, The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, The Negro Soldier, San Pietro, Nazi Concentration Camps and Let There Be Light.”

“How many active American film directors have served in the military? Clint Eastwood, Oliver Stone … if there are others, they’ve kept it a pretty good secret. Does it make any difference? The only answer one can take away from Five Came Back, a somewhat choppy but unavoidably fascinating documentary about five major Hollywood directors who, after Pearl Harbor, left house and home and handsome salaries to spend several years in uniform making documentaries for the US war effort, is yes.” — The Hollywood Reporter.

Five Came Back aspires to the grandness of a ’40s Hollywood production, with its star lineup, Ms. Streep’s narration, the kind of period animation that adorned Capra’s epic Why We Fight and Thomas Newman’s heroic music — which is a bit, shall we say, insistent. But overall, the series is much like its story: mythic, adventurous, romantic. And real.” — Wall Street Journal.

“The footage from the films on display is riveting and includes priceless material … One incredibly moving and effective docu among this group was Huston’s Let There Be Light, his final war effort, and showed the effects of battle on the soldiers after they came home. The US military, however, banned it, thinking it was not good for morale or recruitment, and the film was kept locked up for more than three decades until finally seeing the light of day in the early 1980s. It’s now considered a classic.” — Deadline Hollywood.

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