review for The Big Red One: The Reconstruction on AllMovie

The Big Red One: The Reconstruction (2004)
by Derek Armstrong review

Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One is generally well regarded, but it does suffer from excess ambition; it wants to examine the second world war's every oddity, irony, combat philosophy and battlefront (excepting the Pacific). And so it was that character development and plot continuity were sacrificed when the studio cut it to under two hours, prompting Fuller to publicly air his disappointment. Six years after Fuller's death, Richard Schickel set out to correct that via The Big Red One: Reconstruction, which restores 45 minutes of highly useful footage. Now instead of this rifle squad bouncing between Northern Africa, Sicily and Belgium in the space of barely 30 minutes, the connecting scenes contextualize their jet-setting (or maybe "boat-setting"). This reconstruction also gives a true character arc to the one German officer the story visits. With certain other characters, however, it seems Fuller never had that plan to give them better dimension. The supposed cowardice of Mark Hamill's Griff is never fleshed out -- at some points he seems morally opposed to killing, at others he fears for his life, but most often he's as jolly as can be, making his character's big moment somewhat unconvincing. One thing undercutting the film's graphic nature is how often it resorts to broad humor, or shows the rifle squad joking and reveling. Certainly, this is part of the duality of war, but The Big Red One comes up short on the gravitas half of that equation, as too few characters who die are significant. On the plus side, Lee Marvin is exceptionally dignified, and surprisingly soulful for a man with his rock-hard countenance. Fuller would be a lot happier with this particular incarnation of his passion project, but by setting such an aggressive agenda, he probably never had a clear path to a fully realized vision.