'The Great War' Serves Up World War I on a Budget

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“The Great War” is set in the final hours of World War I. (Saban Films)

"The Great War" is an earnest, battle-on-a-budget action drama set in the final hours of World War I. Although writer-director Steven Luke's reach often exceeds his grasp, he's managed to present a meaningful, largely involving, if decidedly small-scale and fictionalized story about race, courage and comradeship.

When U.S. Gen. John J. Pershing (Ron Perlman), nicknamed "Black Jack" for his command of a regiment of African American cavalrymen ("Buffalo Soldiers") in the 1890s, orders the rescue of a platoon of black servicemen trapped behind enemy lines in northeastern France, Capt. Will Rivers (the Nick Nolte-esque Bates Wilder) must lead his troops into one last fight for survival against the Germans.

Rivers' problem, aside from having shell shock, is the aversion by some of his bluntly racist soldiers to risk their lives saving "the coloreds." (The U.S. military was segregated in World War I.)

It's not hard to predict how much of this will play out, at least from a unity, acceptance and lessons-learned standpoint, especially once a black private (Hiram A. Murray) joins Rivers' perilous mission.

Still, Luke fills his at times heavy-handed, anachronistic script with enough sincere emotion and grace notes to counter the film's physical and financial restraints (it was shot in exurban Minnesota), narrowly staged combat scenes and limited character development.

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This article is written by Gary Goldstein from The Los Angeles Times and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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