Last winter, while Keith Gordon was filming his World War II drama A Midnight Clear in Park City, Utah, a real war was raging in the Persian Gulf. The ironic parallel galvanized the film’s cast and crew. ”We’d work for 10 or 12 hours, then run home and watch CNN all night,” Gordon recalls. ”We were obsessed. It added an extra edge of ‘Wow, this s–t’s still going on.”’
Now playing in 24 cities, A Midnight Clear (adapted from William Wharton’s autobiographical 1982 novel), tells the story of an infantry unit on a reconnaissance mission in the Ardennes Forest in 1944. The members of the squadron — played by a sextet of young actors, including Dead Poets Society‘s Ethan Hawke and The Doors‘ Frank Whaley and Kevin Dillon — have two things in common: an above-average IQ and an aversion to war.
Gordon, an actor (Dressed to Kill, Christine) turned director (1989’s The Chocolate War), realizes his film’s antiwar message contradicts the popular image of World War II as ”the Good War.” ”It might have been completely necessary and unavoidable,” he says, ”but no war is ever glorious and good.” Such a revisionist outlook made Clear too risky for a big-budget, major-studio production. So Gordon and his troops had to make sacrifices to stay within the film’s lean $4 million budget. ”Everybody pitched in,” he says. ”You’d see Ethan lugging something up a hill. There wasn’t that class division you get on a Hollywood movie.”
But Gordon isn’t complaining: ”I could have ended up 55 years old and making Bikini Waitresses From Killer Beach. And here I am at 31 making films that I care about. I couldn’t ask too much more from life.”