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Army of Shadows (1969)

[This capsule review was posted in 2006 when the film received a U.S. theatrical release.]

Try to imagine what it would have been like if Robert Bresson had directed Steven Spielberg’s Munich. If you can manage that, you’ll have a pretty good grasp of what Army of Shadows is like.

It’s an nail-bitingly intense spy thriller about the French resistance to the Nazis in 1942 and 1943. As bleak as it is compelling, it will leave you wondering if these freedom fighters haven’t done more damage to each other than they have to the Nazi aggressors. Still, you’ll walk away impressed by their dedication, courage, and sacrifice.

And it has the ring of truth. Jean-Pierre Melville, the director, had some experience with the resistance, and there is an exciting realism to the tension, the danger, and the miserable places where the agents in this network must meet and hide. Embroiled in excruciating moral dilemmas that may remind viewers of The Godfather or Miller’s Crossing, these daredevil heroes must fire their pistols based on dangerous guesses, and they must endure the whimpering appeals for mercy from villains they take hostage.

Army of Shadows may try some viewers’ patience. But if you watch it more than once, you’ll probably agree that it’s one of the best films about World War 2, even though it feels more like a gangster flick than a war movie. And the lead actor, Lino Ventura, is extraordinary. He looks like Peter Sellers with the slow-burn intensity of Robert DeNiro.

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Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is an author and a professor with an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He teaches writing (Seattle Pacific University, Covenant College) and film studies (Houston Baptist University). His books include an exploration of film and faith (Through a Screen Darkly, Baker, 2007) and a 4-volume fantasy epic (The Auralia Thread, Random House, 2007-11). He has lectured at universities, conferences, and churches in the U.S. and abroad. He has been a columnist at Christianity Today and Image, and his writing has been recognized by The New Yorker and indieWire. Want to invite him to write, teach, or speak? Email