On the Directors of HBO Series

I should have mentioned it earlier–maybe when I asked for DVD rental suggestions–but HBO’s Band of Brothers is one of the best series I can think of. (Except that I can also think of Kieslowski’s Decalogue and Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, which are probably the #1 and #2 greatest “mini-series” of all time; that’s not the category we’re dealing with here. Decalogue has been re-released on DVD, by the way. Run, don’t walk.)
Last week, I watched Part 5, the one installment I missed on TV. It was pretty remarkable, easily bearing the strongest directorial stamp. “Crossroads” was what it sounds like, a transitional story, notable for lacking (until the end) any of the “gotta take that ridge” straightforwardness typical of a war film. Instead, the story focused on the challenges Winters faced off the front; incoming mortars replaced by barrages of mundane paperwork and meetings. Even so, a complex mix of recollections and revealing subplots were woven together in a fairly complex structure. It could have been confusing, but it wasn’t.
From the opening scene, the director let you know something was different. The handheld camerawork was unexpected, with an intensity that clearly referenced the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan. And in a later battle scene, the handheld camera follows a soldier on a dead run (no pun) across a battlefield. The SPR allusion was no coincidence. Of course, Steven Spielberg was an executive producer of BoB, but Part 5 was the only episode directed by the other exec producer–and veteran of the D-Day scene–Tom Hanks.
The giddy pablum on HBO’s site, actors gushing about how great it was that Tom Hanks was directing them is exactly what “Crossroads” overcomes. Maybe it’s too directed, too edited to blend in with the more conventionally directed installments, but it feels like Hanks had something to prove, and for the most part, he did.