Thomas Pohn in The Final Sacrifice (Photo: Koan)

★★½ (out of four)
STARS Thomas Pohn, Fabio Sartor

It isn’t exactly Allied vs. Axis in the World War II drama The Final Sacrifice. The American soldiers are united against the enemy, but the enemy can’t go a day without some measure of infighting. In fact, they seemingly squabble as much as Fred and Ethel Mertz on any given episode of I Love Lucy.

It’s this internal antagonism that proves to be the most interesting component of The Final Sacrifice, a WWII flick that was made just after Bill Clinton vacated the White House and just before Tom Brady took over the NFL. Filmed in 2001 (and not to be confused with the MST3K “classic” of the same name, the one featuring that fellow Zap Rowsdower), it’s had a troubled existence, operating under the titles Letters from the Dead, Last Letters from Monte Rosa, The Gothic Line, and The Fallen as it sought distribution before finally landing on the home-video market circa 2004. This new edit, tagged The Director’s Cut in some of the marketing, is sure to remain the definitive version of the movie.

Directed by Ari Taub (whose 79 Parts is reviewed here) and written by Nick Day and Caio Ribeiro, The Final Sacrifice is set in Northern Italy toward the end of 1944, with less than a year to go before the war comes to a close. Everyone is exhausted — that includes the band of Yanks who will eventually find themselves on the winning side of the conflict. But for now, victory for this group of grunts merely means staying alive.

That survival stance also applies to the German and Italian soldiers located in the same area. Yet in addition to having to keep an eye out for enemy combatants, they’re forced to get along with each other; i.e. allies that prove to be irksome. Hurled insults, frequent fisticuffs, and even friendly fire further the division between the factions, with the Italians arguably getting the worst of it — after all, they also find themselves squaring off against their fellow countrymen, Communists who don’t care much for their fascist brethren.

The Final Sacrifice does a fine job of capturing the inanity and insanity of war, and production values are strong enough to pull off the attempts at verisimilitude. Where the film falters is in its roster of characters. While some individuals stand out — these include the German and Italian officers (Thomas Pohn and Fabio Sartor respectively) trying to corral the antsy soldiers serving under them — others fail to clearly come into their own, a problem exacerbated by the fact that it’s occasionally difficult to tell who’s who in the first place. It’s hard to continuously capture the face of war when the visages don’t always come into focus.

(The Final Sacrifice will be available on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Fandango, iTunes, and other streaming platforms beginning Thursday, March 24.)

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