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Recon review – GIs on a mission to nowhere

The Guardian - Wed Jan 13 16:00

The Tenet-style action “rewind” in Recon’s opening scene suggests this adaptation of Richard Bausch’s 2008 novel Peace, based on his grandfather’s wartime experiences, might offer more than the average second world war thriller. Don’t get your hopes up. There’s no time travel, nor multi-perspective narrative tricks, nor even an innovative depiction of trauma’s impact on memory. Recon takes place in just the single dimension of reality, and a rather leaden one at that.

Alexander Ludwig (Vikings) stars as Marson, a US army corporal stationed somewhere in Italy, who is sent trudging into the mountains by a callous commanding officer on a pointless and potentially suicidal reconnaissance mission. He and his small crew are irritable, exhausted and haunted by a recently witnessed war crime, all of which they articulate at length as they struggle through the snow. Their guide is an elderly farmer (Franco Nero, AKA Mr Vanessa Redgrave; furnishing the film with some Italian suavity) who was unfortunate enough to have crossed their path. He may or may not be a secret Nazi sympathiser leading them into a trap, and his habit of mumbling, “I had a family … tutti morti,” doesn’t do much to allay suspicions.

The soldiers’ chit-chat has some Catch-22-esque wit to it – especially when delivered by Marson’s Brooklyn-accented brother-in-arms Asch (a standout Chris Brochu). But there’s altogether too much of it. In a real combat situation, surely arguing this loudly about Hershey bars and baseball odds would have drawn the unwelcome attention of enemy forces, with deadly consequences. The fact that it doesn’t here saps any potential dramatic tension from the situation, notwithstanding all the unseen snipers and landmines they encounter. Bausch’s book has been praised for its existential profundity on religious matters, but very little of that makes it to the screen.

• Recon is available on digital platforms from 18 January.