June 22, 1998 12:00 PM

HBO (Sat., June 27, 9 p.m. ET)

Show of the week

In terms of the cost in life and limb, World War II was not “the good war.” The United States alone suffered more than 1 million military casualties (killed or wounded), an estimated 24,000 of them in 1944 at the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest along the Belgian-German border. Judging by this powerful dramatization of that hellish three-month struggle—which the film maintains was strategically valueless for the Allies—the overriding feeling of the Americans who fought the battle was not patriotism but something more primal: fear. Given the situation, what could be more human?

Ron Eldard (Deep Impact) gives an effectively understated performance as a fictional GI whose extraordinary survival skills attract the attention of his superiors and bring him two battlefield promotions within three days. As he goes unwillingly from private to sergeant to lieutenant, Eldard is forced to take responsibility for lives other than his own. The plot is serviceable, if not always plausible, but what will stay with you are the images of combat framed by director John Irvin (Hamburger Hill): fingers clawing desperately in the mud; a junior officer (Timothy Olyphant) breaking down amid the carnage; a rookie soldier (Steven Petrarca) running the wrong way in panic, flamethrower in hand; another (Zak Orth) charging forward, screaming savagely to overcome the flight impulse.

Bottom Line: A war picture that earns its stripes

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