“Days of Glory” – A.J. Hakari

It’s a real shame that Days of Glory got slapped with as generic a title as it did. Usually, the title Days of Glory might evoke images of a beefed-up Rambo clone blasting his way through some B-movie battlefield. But this Days of Glory is cut from a much deeper and more observant cloth than that other, frighteningly common scenario. A tale of untold heroism, this Oscar-nominated Algerian war opus is a tragedy on the grandest of scales, a story of men who gave their all for a cause they knew little about while being discriminated against to this very day.

Days of Glory begins during the third act of World War II. The struggle against Hitler’s forces is still a way’s off from being won, and to boost their numbers, the French military has started recruiting scores of North Africans for the fight. Among these men are four individuals who come to tell the story of their collective journey through very different eyes: Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), a humble soldier who falls in love with a French beauty; Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), who comes to rise through the ranks, albeit not without many obstacles in the way; Yassir (Samy Naceri), a chronic looter who takes the saying “To the victor go the spoils” to heart; and Saïd (Jamel Debbouze), an impressionable troop who finds that his loyalties aren’t completely on solid ground. Together, these men go to hell and back in defense of France, only to turn around and be mistreated by their own superiors, granting certain, white units leave while denying the North African troops even a tomato for dinner, proving that the battlefield isn’t the only place where there’s a fight needs to be fought.

I can see some readers out there groaning and shaking their heads right now. I feel your pain, and I know what you’re thinking: a war movie and a “racism is bad” story? Days of Glory does sound like a preachy disaster in the making, but the cinema gods saw fit to bestow upon director/co-writer Rachid Bouchareb a very steady hand in conveying the story’s themes. This isn’t the sort of film to pull a Glory Road on its viewers, going out of its way to point out that, indeed, prejudiced jerks exist all around us. Bouchareb realizes that what matters most here are the men themselves, not the discrimination they faced; the story centers around their shared heroism, the incredible bravery of having went through what they did and not having given up the ghost despite it all. Perhaps the film’s throwaway title serves an ironic purpose after all; even though the Allies fought in WWII for honorable causes, it wasn’t necessarily the best of times for the men doomed to the lowest rung of the military ladder.

What serves as a driving force behind Days of Glory’s success is its astounding, 100 percent convincing cast. Instead of being distracted by star power up the wazoo, Bouchareb allows the viewers to see the main characters for the men they are, each respective performance doing its part to earn your sympathy for the cast as a whole. In short, Days of Glory is as fantastic in parts as it is as a sum of them. Zem’s turn as the lovestruck Messaoud is heartbreaking, Bouajila is great as the unit’s de facto leader, Naceri’s Yassir is a compelling cynic, and Debbouze deserves much credit for taking the role of Saïd, a young man who enlisted because there were no better options at home, and perfectly integrating the character’s conflicts into the plot. Also very much worthy of mention is Bernard Blancan’s memorable turn as a commanding officer who sympathizes with the North African men he leads but can only watch as the rest of the military pretends they don’t exist.

The film’s lone detractions are of an artistic nature, particularly in how each new battle opens with a black-and-white bird’s eye view of the landscape, which turns to color as the battle rages on. It’s just a strange tonal choice that doesn’t quite fit in with the overall nature of the flick. But this is a mere kink in the shining armor of achievement that is Days of Glory, which may not have the nearly nonstop brutality of Black Hawk Down but depicts the horrors of war in an almost completely different, yet equally successful way.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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