“Memorial Day” was directed by Sam Fischer. It was his debut as a director after working as a cameraman and cinematographer for over 20 years. The movie was meant as a tribute to fallen soldiers.
The movie opens in Iraq in 2005. Staff Sergeant Kyle Vogel (Jonathan Bennett) is wounded by an IED. In the hospital, recovering from the shrapnel wound, he is prompted to talk about his experiences by a nurse. He relates a story from his childhood. On Memorial Day in 1993, the 13-year-old Kyle found a foot locker belonging to his granddad. It turns out Bud Vogel (James Cromwell) was in the 82nd Airborne in WWII. The elderly Vogel is the “get off my lawn” type. He sits on a rocker on his porch drinking lemonade all day. Kyle gets his grandpa to tell him about three items from the foot locker. O-pa is reluctant to share his feelings, but a deal is a deal. This is the framing device for the film. It’s an unusual format for a low budget film, but it works well. The first item is a pistol that Lt. Vogel took from a German officer during Operation Market Garden. The second is a piece of shrapnel he got from a German grenade during the Battle of the Bulge. The third item is a picture of him and his best friend. He died near the end of the war. While these flashbacks are occurring, the adult Kyle is dealing with suicide bombers and jihadi snipers in Iraq. And the death of his best friend.
“Memorial Day” has the look and feel of a Hallmark movie. It was low budget ($4 million) and small scale. Without James Cromwell, it would be unmemorable. Cromwell’s son John plays Lt. Vogel. The movie is his first feature film. He does a decent job, but looks too old to be a lieutenant in WWII. Bennett is better at combat soldier than laying in a bed wounded soldier. The rest of the cast is nondescript. Some of the actors were from the Minnesota National Guard. It shows. They try hard, as does the movie. It is dripping in sincerity. It will come as no surprise to reveal that the closing scene has Kyle visiting the grave of his grandfather. Corny, yes, but it’s a Memorial Day movie. This scene fits snuggly in a movie that is overtly religious. Lt. Vogel carries a rosary. His best friend dies in a church.
For action fans, there are some small-scale combat scenes. It was unwise to set the first two WWII flashbacks in Operation Market Garden and the Battle of the Bulge. History buffs like me can easily spot problems. The paratroopers are traveling in trucks in Holland when they had no such transportation after paradropping (something the movie does not even attempt to recreate). The Bulge scene is in nice weather. Vogel’s squad is in foxholes when the initial German attack surprises them. Instead of being overrun, they defeat the attack easily. None of the fighting is realistic. The third flashback makes use of a P-38 and a P-51 (an odd pairing) for a strafe and bomb attack. The scenes in Iraq are unfulfilling. This coda fizzles and comes after the death of Bud Vogel’s friend, the logical conclusion of a film about death.
I watched “Memorial Day” after googling Memorial Day war movies. There aren’t many and I had already reviewed “Taking Chance” and “Gardens of Stone”. “Memorial Day” seemed a logical choice, especially since I had not seen it before. The only way I could recommend it is if you are in the same situation I was in. If you are looking for a movie to watch on Memorial Day, it will certainly put you in the right frame of mind for the day. Maybe it will inspire you to visit the cemetery. Or, if you are a veteran, to talk to your children or grandchildren about your experiences.
GRADE = D+