Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 5, 2021)
Probably most famous for 1949’s gangster epic White Heat, director Raoul Walsh took on a different genre via Objective, Burma! from 1945. Shot during the tail end of World War II, the film looks at the conflict in Asia.
With an Allied invasion on the horizon, a Japanese radar in Burma stands as an obstacle. This means a team needs to infiltrate the jungle setting and pull off the important task to disable this device.
Captain Charlie Nelson (Errol Flynn) receives the assignment to head the squad. Inevitably, he and his soldiers encounter a mix of complications.
I find World War II movies shot during the conflict to create particular intrigue. Given the nature of the era and that particular struggle, US-made films from this period can tend toward propaganda, so they often can seem problematic 75 years down the road.
Happily, Objective doesn’t follow that path too strongly. While it certainly acts to portray the Allied forces as courageous and noble, it lacks the overt partisanship I feared.
Perhaps Objective came late enough in WWII that filmmakers no longer felt the need for the rah-rah jingoism of earlier years. Whatever the case, the movie obviously favors the US side but it doesn’t go to the expected cartoony extremes.
Otherwise, I can’t claim Objective becomes a particularly engaging war movie, though I also won’t call it a dud. The film brings us a serviceable tale that mostly keeps us with it, but it never quite turns into anything special.
I do appreciate that Objective subverts the standard plot in one way: it doesn’t conclude with the achievement of the mission. Usually the story would build to the Big Event and then wrap quickly after that.
Instead, our heroes accomplish that goal less than halfway into the narrative. The rest of the movie shows their struggles to escape the jungle alive.
That becomes an enjoyable twist on the standard plot. It adds some tension to the affair and gives us a bit of a curveball.
Unfortunately, Objective doesn’t tell this tale as well as I’d like, partly because the movie stretches to an extended running time. The film just doesn’t offer enough plot and character information to fill 142 minutes, so it can drag and feel padded.
Beyond its unusual narrative structure, Objective also lacks much to stand out from other WWII movies. The soldiers tend to feel like plucky genre clichés, and even with that all the cinematic real estate those 142 minutes offer, we never get to know anyone very well.
This means we connect to the GIs in a generic sense but not more than that. We care out of movie-going reflex and find it tough to identify with them in other ways.
Ultimately, Objective offers a perfectly serviceable war movie. It comes with weaknesses but does enough right to keep us reasonably engaged.