The Liberator

Dept. of War and Peace


With so many World War II stories out there, and another one on the way from the makers of Band of Brothers, The Liberator, based upon Alex’s Kershaw’s book, has a lot of work to do to stand out from the crowd.

Despite an opening narration introducing “a unit from Oklahoma composed of Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, and Dust Bowl cowboys, most of whom couldn’t drink together in the same bars back home” and their arrival in the war, The Liberator primarily focuses on the real life Captain Felix Sparks, (Bradley James), a (white) man who was given command of a unit of troublemakers. From languishing in jail cells for insubordination and assault (usually the result of defending themselves from racially charged assaults, both verbal and physical) to Sicily, Anzio, France, and into Germany itself, this 4 episode series follows Sparks and his squad’s experiences in the war.

Making the show stand out immediately is its look, a new hybrid style of animation that the filmmakers call Trioscope™ Enhanced Hybrid Animation. Originally planned as an 8 episode “live action” series at the History channel, the sheer cost of staging a World War II epic proved prohibitive. Instead, the filmmakers used a canny mixture of makeup, high contrast costumes, filters, and CGI trickery to build a reasonable facsimile of World War II for a fraction of the cost of shooting on location, and for the most part, it works.

Fear Is a Reaction, Courage, a Decision

While it may appear similar to the “swimmy” style of rotoscoped animation seen in Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly or Waking Life, the look here is more static, and less prone to induce motion sickness.

Actors in costumes, with highlights painted on, appear to be composited into backgrounds and CGI models that supply the epic scale that such a story needs. Despite some minor issues the series manages to convey the dread of defending a freezing mountain pass, or coming across a pack of Panzers.

Each of the four, tight episodes focuses on one primary conflict as Sparks, and whoever is left of his unit, undertake some of the less showy missions during the war. Defending the only road into Anzio, holding an inhospitable mountain pass, and subduing a German town are their daily bread until they finally arrive at Dachau.

Only Fools Empty Ashtrays When the House Is on Fire

Apart from Sparks, very few soldiers stick around long enough to build up any relationship with the viewer, but this doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the show. James is a very likeable lead with a stoic, heroic performance that would seem to earmark a role for him in the Marvel Cinematic or DC TV universes. You’ll believe that he won’t be the same man at the end of the war than he was at its start.  

The battle scenes are tense and gripping, the characters are engaging, although due to the animation style it can be slightly difficult to distinguish between some of them at a distance at times. There are some odd scenes on the German side of things that seem to go nowhere, but otherwise, the filmmakers find ways to breathe new life into the most hackneyed war movie tropes, like trying to take fortified enemy positions, or fighting SS snipers in the snow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen tank shells used to create shrapnel in a forest before. Even a cliché as well worn as Sparks reading out his regular letters to his wife are made to work.

While the series opening promised a diverse “Band of Brothers” from Mexican and native American backgrounds, the reduced episode count seems to have resulted in losing much of this. Interracial conflicts do arise, but there isn’t too much to dwell on, mainly due to the horrors of war interrupting.

I Didn’t Give Anybody Anything. They Earned It

This isn’t a “feel good” action adventure war story. Even with the stylized visuals, The Liberator doesn’t shy away from the horrors of war.

Men in foxholes share looks of fear before one of them explodes into a red mist under artillery fire. Conversations, and lives, are cut short mid-sentence by a sniper’s bullet. The incomprehensibility of death on such a massive scale is matched only by Spark’s inability to understand how he manages to survive.

In a story that seemed so rich with diverse characters, it is a pity that more isn’t made of it. That said, in its four episodes, The Liberator still delivers a more than decent war movie that doesn’t shy away from reality.

The Liberator
Netflix, Season 1, 4 episodes
Director: Grzegorz Jonkajtys
Writers: Alex Kershaw and Jeb Stuart
Cast: Bradley James, Martin Sensmeier, Jose Miguel Vasquez, Forrest Goodluck, Tatanka Means, Michael Shaeffer, and Sam Gittins

The Liberator is now streaming on Netflix.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

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