Episode 2 (of 10): “Day of Days” (August 13, 2004)
If you didn’t become hooked on “Band of Brothers” after Episode 2, “Day of Days”, then you weren’t cut out for war movies.
With D-Day in full swing, the men of Easy Company are being ferried to their drop zone in transport planes. It’s the dead of night, and everyone is anxious, scared, and going through emotions they didn’t know they had. And then it happens — they begin to hear the sounds of anti-aircraft guns exploding in the air.
Before Dick Winters’ plane even has an opportunity to drop its human cargo, planes are being blown out of the sky all around them. German guns are obliterating planes like ducks in a pond, picking them off one by one. It’s a hellish sight, made more horrific when we see a plane get hit and flames ignite, swallowing up the soldiers in the back like some angry mythical God of fire. Men die by the hundreds even before they have the chance to drop and fight.
We follow Dick Winters as he takes the plunge. Upon landing, Winters realizes that he’s not only alone and far, far behind enemy lines, but his weapons are gone, having failed to follow him down. Locating another lost soldier, Winters seeks out his own men, finding Lipton and more lost soldiers along the way. The drops were not on target, and American soldiers are spread out all across the French countryside in the darkness. Before the night is over, Winters’ men have executed a successful — albeit contentious — ambush, and by morning the men have located a makeshift command center.
With Easy Company’s new commanding officer missing, Winters becomes the de-facto leader. Before they can take a breather, Winters and Buck Compton (“Walking Tall’s” Neal McDonough) are ordered to take out a battery of German artillery firing on the beach. Once again proving he is a natural leader, Winters reveals his mettle as he leads a maddening charge into German-occupied trenches. Here, director Richard Loncraine elects to shoot much of the sequence with the camera moving backwards and the lens trained on Winters’ face as he charges through the trenches, firing and taking fire all the while. There are about three or four amazing sequences, all of them based on Damian Lewis’ hard, focused face as he screams and grunts his way through the mission.
“Day of Days”, besides giving a sampling of the harrowing war action that the mini-series will become known for, also introduces us to Captain Ronald Speirs (Matthew Settle), who along with Winters and Nixon will become the other face that stands out from the crowd. A hard, stoic professional man of war, Speirs is a man of mystery. When we first see him, he has just slaughtered a group of unarmed enemy prisoners. Or did he? We never actually see the confrontation, or if there was even any. Our only “view” of the “slaughter” is the reaction by an American soldier. And so begins the infamous legend of Ronald Speirs.
War has never looked more beautiful and poetic, and at the same time so destructive and evil, than it does in episode 2. The episode itself is short, running just barely 50 minutes. Not that it matters, because the script by John Orloff is crammed with such intensity and efficient character moments that a longer running time would only have been a hindrance. The grueling, 15-minute onslaught by Winters and his men on the German trenches will go down as one of the best war sequence ever shot, with not a single second passing that the viewer won’t be clutching his armchair. It is that good.
What I said before is absolutely true: if you don’t like the brutal war action in “Day of Days”, then you just weren’t made for war movies. If that’s the case, I suggest turning away now, because it’s only going to get worst — or better, from a cinematic point of view.