Memorial Day is a film with good intentions, those being to help us remember the men and women who bravely serve in the armed forces as well as their families. Ironically though, the filmmakers have chosen to do this by putting together a film that is ultimately very forgettable. I just screened the film the evening prior to writing this review and I already find it slipping away rapidly. Why would this be? Well, let’s take a look at the story.
It starts off during the Iraq War where Kyle Vogel (Jonathan Bennett) is part of a squad that is attempting to determine if an IED has been placed in the body of a dead animal. After he is wounded, he is shipped off to a hospital where he meets a doctor, Lt. Tripp (Emily Fradenburgh), who tries to get him to open up about himself. Kyle eventually begins to tell her a story about a day that he and his grandfather, Bud Vogel (James Cromwell), spent together one Memorial Day.
Back in 1993, young Kyle (Jackson Bond) was playing hide and seek when he came across a trunk of souvenirs that his grandfather collected from his days in World War II. Out of curiosity, Kyle brings the trunk to Bud, who is at first mad that Kyle has brought it out. However, it being Memorial Day and Kyle wanting to know what he’s supposed to be remembering prompts Bud to make a deal with him in which Kyle can choose three items and have Bud tell the story behind them. From here, the film jumps back and forth between young Bud (John Cromwell) in WWII and the other two time periods.
From this, you can probably see where the first problem arises. The film attempts to cover quite a bit in just 104 minutes, causing it to have to shift several times between all of the stories it’s attempting to juggle. This becomes a bit jarring as just when you’re starting to get into one part of the story, it suddenly jumps into another.
They were obviously trying to make a connection between Bud’s experiences in WWII and Kyle’s experiences in Iraq, but quite frankly, the weakest parts of the film were the Iraq sections. The film could have easily worked better had it concentrated on a grandfather telling his grandson about WWII through the stories behind his souvenirs. This would have brought a much better focus to the story and eliminated the need to jump around so much.
The WWII sections were indeed the most interesting part of the film, but even they weren’t particularly memorable. The first story involves a gun that he took off of a dying German who attempted to save his life by showing the Americans a picture of his son. The second involves a piece of shrapnel that injured Bud during a battle in Belgium. Finally, the third story involves a friend of Bud’s who was killed.
The production design of these scenes is done rather well, especially given that the budget of the film was a mere $4.2 million. A fact I learned in the audio commentary was that they put a lot of effort into making sure everything was accurate and authentic, which shows in how well these sequences are put together. It would have been even better had the writing been able to stand up to the film’s look.
The screenplay comes from first-time writer Marc Conklin. It’s certainly not a bad first attempt, he just needs to learn to bring a little more focus to his story so that it’s not all over the place in multiple time periods. The film was directed by another first-timer, Samuel Fischer, who had previously been an electrician and cinematographer. The direction is done well and shows promise for when he makes a second feature.
Turning now to the specs of the blu-ray, the video is presented in a 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer with DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. Both video and audio are crisp and clear allowing everything to be seen and heard clearly. The soundtracks are mixed well allowing for dialogue to be heard even during the hectic war scenes. No corners were noticeably cut when putting these aspects of the film to disc.
However, the same cannot be said of the special features. Again I find a severe deficit in this area as the only specials included are an audio commentary with director Sam Fischer, writer Marc Conklin, and actor John Cromwell, as well as a “Behind the Scenes” featurette. The commentary ends up being the better of the two as these three actually have things to say about the film as opposed to just describing what’s on the screen. The usual ten-minute sampling has them discussing such things as the accuracy of the military aspects of the film and when and where certain scenes were shot.
The “Behind the Scenes” featurette turned out to be a completely pointless two-minute video showing the movie being filmed while not actually saying anything about it. They didn’t even bother to include interviews with any of the cast or crew. A ‘Making Of” featurette exploring where the idea originated and how it developed would have been an interesting addition, but apparently they didn’t think it was important enough to include.
As I mentioned earlier, the film does have good intentions, but it just doesn’t reach the emotional level that it’s going for. Had they trimmed a little of the fat from the piled-up storylines, this could have been a touching story of a grandson reaching out and connecting to his grandfather, but they end going for more and ultimately make the film too scattered. It was a nice attempt, but unfortunately this film won’t help anyone remember the importance of Memorial Day.
Memorial Day has its heart in the right place and an interesting plot at its core, but due to an unfocused script, it ultimately becomes a forgettable film that tries to tackle too many storylines.