Review by Sean Boelman
Featuring narration by actor Michael Cudlitz (Band of Brothers), the new documentary Return to Hardwick couldn’t have come at a worse time with the increasing mistrust of the federal government. Even though it’s a relatively harmless and inconsequential film, one can’t help but feel like releasing a movie hailing militarization is at least a little bit misguided at the moment.
The film takes a look at the 93rd Bomb Group, a unit of bombers for the United States Army during WWII who were stationed in England. Their story is certainly very interesting, but unfortunately, the focus here is not on the pilots but their descendants who are working to preserve the legacy of their parents and grandparents who fought in the war.
While this could have worked to offer an interesting exploration of the legacy of war, it turns out to be something much less compelling. There are simply too many people featured in the movie for it to be a personal reflection on each subject’s memory, so the general survey that director Michael Sellers provides comes off as shallow and jingoistic.
The film is also surprisingly ineffective at getting the viewer to respect the people whose military careers it recounts. They are repeatedly claimed to be heroes, but viewers will be left to ask the question why. The movie fails to adequately answer the question of what made the 93rd Bomb Group more exceptional than the rest of the millions of soldiers who served in the war.
The sole purpose of this film seems to be to educate the audience about the importance of history, hence why it more often than not feels like pro-war propaganda. The movie was produced by the 93rd Bombardment Group Association and may have value as a feature-length presentation to squeeze money out of donors or perhaps even to show in a history museum’s screening room, but there just isn’t enough here for it to be effective on its own.
Thankfully, at only seventy-three minutes, the film mostly breezes by. There isn’t anything too emotionally manipulative or upsetting, so history-loving audiences may enjoy this brief crash course in obscure WWII military factoids, but most informed viewers will see it for the unnecessarily commercial product that it is.
The best part of the movie is undoubtedly Sellers’s excellent use of archive materials to tell the story. The film starts out with a poem written by one of the bombers that presents a really interesting meditation on war. However, when the movie gets into the meat of the fly-on-the-wall footage, it begins to fall apart.
Return to Hardwick isn’t a terrible documentary, but it’s a jingoistic reflection on the past that fails to justify its release to the general public. Those with vested interests in the public will enjoy it, but otherwise, it’s pretty unspectacular.
Return to Hardwick hits VOD on June 9.