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SGT ROCK

SGT. ROCK BUTTON


WHAT WE KNOW:Edit

IGN Filmforce has a script review of the screenplay written by Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential) so here it is........

The making of this film seems contingent on who is cast in the title role. Apparently, Stallone was never really under any serious consideration for the part but Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis were. Both stars have gone on to develop their own pet WWII movies; Arnold has With Wings as Eagles on the back-burner while Bruce wants to bring the classic TV series Combat! to the big screen. Ironically, neither of their two projects appear any closer to production than Sgt. Rock. Apparently, Arnold's Frank Rock would have been a German immigrant who joins the US Army to fight the Nazis who drove him from his homeland. Uhhh, no, I don't buy it. Never did and I never will.  Despite making an effective US soldier in Commando and Predator, Arnold is simply NOT the All-American Sgt. Rock; his casting (then or now) would also make this movie seem like a relic from the 1980's. Bruce Willis is an ideal Frank Rock but, alas, he seems determined to play Vic Morrow's character in Combat! instead. Although he is also a foreigner like Ah-nuld, action star of the moment Russell Crowe has the silent intensity and physical brawn that make him perfect for Sgt. Rock; he can also do a far more convincing Yank accent than Mr. Schwarzenegger can.  Even though this particular rewrite pre-dates Steven Spielberg's award-winning blockbuster by a couple of years, Helgeland's tale has a number of striking similarities to Saving Private Ryan that may further hinder its chances of being produced. Both films employ numerous war movie cliches as well as a formulaic plot line; their "characters" are actually staples from every other World War Two film.  But that doesn't mean either of these films are still not entertaining or powerful; they're just extraordinarily conventional tales that work well despite these obvious handicaps. The boys of Easy Company are nearly identical to Captain Miller's squadron: Rock is a cross between Tom Hanks' Captain Miller and Tom Sizemore's Sgt. Horvath; Kluzewski is Ed Burns' character; Farracci is just like Vin Diesel almost down to their early death scenes; 4-Eyes is reminiscent of Jeremy Davies; Marlboro is a strong, silent sharpshooter a la Barry Pepper; Wildman is another Ed Burns-type; and Retread reminded me of Adam Goldberg somewhat. There is also Beanpole, Stitch, Ice Cream, Cohen, and Whitney. Along the way Easy Company also acquires a pair of black troops from Baker Company, the segregated motor pool: the towering Sgt. Steele (a role Michael Clarke Duncan was born to play, with his pal Willis as Rock) and his buddy Lightning. (This allows Sgt. Rock to overcome the "lily-white" criticism that plagued Spielberg's film.)

All the grunts in Easy Company are "types," easily recognized and defined by either their ethnicity or by a distinct personality quirk who are still stereotypical characters from every other WWII ever made.  There is another archetypal war movie character, the young, untried Lieutenant Teaberry, a Senator's son whose milquetoast personality is reminiscent of Matthew Broderick in Glory and whose motivations for joining the war are nearly identical to Charlie Sheen's in Platoon. Teaberry undergoes the obligatory rite of passage in this story, earning the respect of the men of Easy Company the hard way. John Agar played numerous characters like Teaberry throughout his career.

Sgt. Rock is more a force of nature than a character. He is one-dimensional yet larger than life, speaks very little but his presence is felt throughout the entire story. He is the title character but not really the main character; Kluzewski, Wildman, or Teaberry better qualify for that distinction. I can see now why it is hard to cast this role. It's like trying to woo Mel Gibson to play the Marlboro Man. Like John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima, Rock feels his men's pain, if you will, but his taciturn nature doesn't allow him to express his fondness for them. But we do see how much they mean to him whenever he collects the dog-tags off their corpses. Like Saving Private Ryan, no soldier is safe in this story and many of the best characters meet their maker. This made the script much more suspenseful and poignant. There are, however, a few moments that are telegraphed ahead of time and thus undercut the horror when a particular character buys it.

The antagonist here is not some super-villain or even a high-ranking Nazi official but rather the very atypical SS Colonel Anton Heydrich. Heydrich is as two-dimensional as the rest of the cast; he is basically the Nazi officer from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade but with Ralph Fiennes' debonair looks. There is no particular agenda the villain is trying to accomplish here except to push his Tiger tank division through the American foothold in order to take the town of Bastogne. (This script is set in Belgium in 1944, mostly around the Ardennes Forest.) There is no real plot to speak of, no real agenda any character is trying to accomplish except to stay alive by killing the other guy. Sounds a lot like a real war, doesn't it? Sgt. Rock is essentially a slice of life look at the grunts of the European Theater during the closing days of World War Two. The approaching Tiger tanks under Heydrich's command have cut off Easy Company from the rest of the American forces in the Ardennes. The script covers the next few days as Rock tries to get Easy Company reunited with their fellow troops. It is a very episodic plot that reads like a couple of episodes of Combat! that were edited together. In yet another ironic parallel to the later Saving Private Ryan, the script ends with a showdown in a bombed out village between the GIs and the relentless Nazi tanks that are determined to break through their meager defense. Most of Easy Company is killed off in this noble last stand like the troops in Spielberg's epic were. This ending illustrates the script's theme that it is men, often crazy SOBs, who win wars and not machines.

Not everything worked in this draft. There is some kind of intrigue introduced about Nazi infiltrators who are disguising themselves as American GIs that never panned out. Apparently, these impostors were trying to hinder the Americans' defense but this sub-plot was vague and never fully exploited. If it had been it may have added more clarity and tension to the conflict rather than the series of disconnected skirmishes we end up with. There is also a disappearing/reappearing missing field medic named O'Hara who serves as the GIs guardian angel; his inclusion, however cool, did undercut the mythic stature of Sgt. Rock to a degree. One legendary figure is enough for this story.

One of my favorite things in this script were the "dreams" Kluzewski had about his pregnant wife back home, which ranged from racy to frightening but were always hilarious because "Klu" acts them out in his sleep. These sequences allow for a momentary escape from the battlefield while also offering a welcome dose of comic relief that never breaks the script's tone or momentum. These sequences work far better than the "humorous" cutaways Helgeland made in his medieval fantasy A Knight's Tale, where the knight and the damsel suddenly boogie to KC and the Sunshine Band during a castle feast. That script, which is currently filming under Helgeland's direction, was far less entertaining and engaging than this unproduced draft of Sgt. Rock.

I am unsure just how much of Brian Helgeland's draft is composed of left-overs from previous screenwriters' attempts. In any case, this 1996 draft had a lot of charm, energy, and wit that made for an appealing albeit formulaic adventure yarn. Despite the fact that its GI characters were stereotypes, I cared about them and enjoyed their company. This rewrite was a nice attempt at realizing Sgt. Rock as a feature film but I still wanted to know more about who Frank Rock was. I wanted a character to latch onto and not just an archetype. This is a fine line to walk, however, as Sgt. Rock has always been a shadowy and withdrawn character even in the comics. After all these years, I don't think we know much more about Sgt. Rock than his name, rank, and serial number (if even that). In a way, I'm glad the writers didn't construct some hackneyed back story to make Rock more "human" but there has got to be a way for the title character to be more fully developed without sacrificing his iconic status. Perhaps if more screen time had been spent with Rock, and not on the other characters simply talking about him, then he may have been more memorable and believable.

I do hope that Hollywood's renewed interest in the last world war helps Sgt. Rock reach the silver screen. For all the flaws evident in Brian Helgeland's 1996 rewrite, the charm, wit, and energy he infused into it made for entertaining, and sometimes even thoughtful, escapist fare. But until a bankable leading man is finally signed to play Frank Rock, this prohibitively expensive war picture will simply remain a dream project for producer Joel Silver and all the rest of the fans of Easy Company.

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