Follow TV Tropes


Film / A Midnight Clear

Go To
"Nobody in the army ever admits that someone on our side is killed. They're either lost, like Christopher Robin, hit, as in a batter hit by a pitched ball, or they get "it", like in hide and go seek. Or maybe they get it, as with an ambiguous joke."
Will Knott

A Midnight Clear is a 1992 World War II film directed by Keith Gordon and starring Ethan Hawke and Gary Sinise, amongst others. Gordon adapted the story from the eponymous 1982 novel by William Wharton.

During the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, a US Army Intelligence squad commanded by Will Knott (Hawke) is sent on a reconnaissance patrol in the Ardennes. After occupying an abandoned chateau, they encounter a German platoon recently returned from the fighting in Russia, who have no wish to die in the upcoming offensive. After some bonding over Christmas, the Americans hatch up a scheme to take the Germans prisoner, in the meantime acquiring a medal for one of the soldiers, Vance "Mother Wilkins" (Sinise), who is suffering from a breakdown; they hope the medal will get him a safe job away from the lines.

The film has a recognizable cast with a heavy dash of Retroactive Recognition. Although it has was released to critical acclaim and eventually carved a niche for itself as a Cult Classic amongst war movie fans, it suffered from being released between the fad of anti-Vietnam War movies and the surge of World War II movies.

This film provides examples of:

  • All Germans Are Nazis: Completely Averted.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Subverted. Mother comes the rescue of the squad when they are "pinned down" by the "enemy". The plan was to take the Germans prisoner, but fake a battle to make it look like they didn't surrender without a fight. Unfortunately, no one told Mother, whom promptly shows up and shoots several German soldiers, leading to the entire German platoon being wiped out and the deaths of Father Mundy and Stan Shutzer.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The four survivors of Intelligence never make contact again after the war ends, with the exception of Mother sending a lone $10 dollar bill to Will every Christmas, to pay off a bet.
  • Celibate Hero: Father Mundy, who wants to be a priest.
  • Dirty Coward: Major Griffin doesn't seem to want to spend much time near the front, let alone at it.
  • Dreaming of a White Christmas: Justified, the film is set during the fighting in the Ardennes, where it was snowing to the point that trench foot was a major problem amongst combatants.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The very first scene is Mother having a nervous breakdown and Will reassuring him.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Mother Wilkins and Father Mundy.
  • Fatal Family Photo: One of the Germans looks at a photo of his wife and kids before the fake "battle". When it goes horribly right, he and his buddies are killed.
  • A Father to His Men: Will and the older German soldier are these (respectively).
  • Go-Karting with Bowser: The whole point of the movie. The Americans and Germans celebrate Christmas together, singing carols and getting in a snowball fight.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The squad wants to get Mother a medal so he can get off the lines. When they feign a battle with the Germans, the completely uninformed Mother shows up and promptly shoots at the Germans. This causes a full-on firefight which leaves all the Germans, along with Father Mundy and Stan Schutzer, either dead or fatally wounded.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: The Germans' deaths when they fight back against the American squad following Mother mistaking their initially fake fighting for real and started firing at them.
  • Heroic BSoD: Mother spends the entire movie in one.
  • Literal-Minded: Lieutenant Ware, who requisitioned for the Intelligence Squad assuming it would be comprised of, well, intelligent people. A.K.A the soldiers who scored the highest on testing.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Mother. Leads to tragedy.
  • Mirroring Factions: Like the Americans, the Germans are mostly draftees who just want to go home safe. It is implied that they are both recon units.
  • Mood Whiplash. The fake "battle." The soldiers are grinning, enjoying themselves not actually fighting for once. Then Mother shows up and starts dropping the Germans.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Mother blames himself for Father's death (Father was running to warn Mother when he opened fire on the Germans). Defied by the squad, who don't tell Mother about the plan to keep him from completely breaking down.
  • Noble Bigot: The Germans may be Punch Clock Villains, but they still seem to display some predujice towards the Jewish Stan Shutzer.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Keeping Mother Locked Out of the Loop lead to full-fledged fight with German soldiers and ended with all of them dead. After taking Father and Stan with them.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The Germans.
  • Punny Name: Will Knott. Lampshaded by his in-universe nickname of "Won't".
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lieutenant Ware, especially when contrasted to Major Griffin.
  • Spanner in the Works: Nobody thinks to tell Mother of the plan. So he shows up and starts dropping Germans. A completely unintentional example.
  • Snowball Fight: The Americans and Germans have one.
  • Team Mom: Played straight by Will Knott and Father Mundy. Subverted with "Mother" Wilkins, he got the nickname because of his constant hounding of the squad for being unkempt, messy and litterbugs, but he spends most of the movie in a Heroic BSoD. Kind of hard to be a mother figure when you're too busy breaking down.
  • True Companions: The entire squad.
  • War Is Hell: A brilliant example of this trope without many war scenes. Shows the psychological effect on soldiers and how war is fought mostly between Punch Clock Villains.
  • We Have Reserves: Major Griffin loves this trope, but then again, he is an asshole.
    Will: Griffin was a mortician in civilian life. His main passion now seems to be generating business for his army counterparts.