Your local video store probably has 15 copies of Patriot Games, but they’re likely to be rented when you get there. No matter: Three new tapes easily beat the prosaic Games in entertainment value, if not in star quality and budget. So what if you’ve never heard of A Midnight Clear, Proof, or Clearcut? Go ahead and pounce: Sleeper Patrol rarely has it this good.
A Midnight Clear is a World War II tale with a difference — it invests the genre with the mournful antiestablishment tone we’re used to seeing in movies about Vietnam. Based on a novel by William Wharton (Birdy), Clear casts some of the best current young actors (including Ethan Hawke, Kevin Dillon, Arye Gross, and Gary Sinise) as a ragtag squad of GIs on the snowy French-German border in the war’s waning days. Slowly realizing that a nearby enemy platoon wants to surrender, the American leader (Hawke) has to balance their pacifist intent with his commanding officer’s kill-‘em-all tactics with his own men’s fraying nerves. What makes Clear special is its eloquent, unsentimental humanity: When a snowball fight suddenly erupts between the Germans and the Americans, you’re as startled with delight as the participants. This is the second movie directed by former teen actor Keith Gordon (who played Angie Dickinson’s son in Dressed to Kill). It’s his best yet as well. Keep an eye on this guy.
And keep the other eye on Proof’s Australian writer-director, Jocelyn Moorhouse — even if her movie’s hero can’t. Blind since birth, Martin (Hugo Weaving) has a raging cynicism toward the world. Or rather, what people tell him about the world: His hobby is taking photographs — blurry, miscropped slices of life — and having someone describe the pictures to him, thus validating reality. He thinks he has found a trustworthy ”describer” — and, more surprisingly, a friend — in a genial dishwasher named Andy (Russell Crowe), but there’s a third point to the triangle: Martin’s comely housekeeper (Genevieve Picot), who’s not above rearranging her boss’ furniture out of lovelorn frustration. The ensuing games are sexual, mental, visual, and entirely engrossing: To Moorhouse’s credit, all the chilly intellectual sport is warmed by sudden updrafts of emotion. Filmed with an oddball clarity that looks great on a TV screen, Proof is also exceedingly generous to its characters. Why can’t Hollywood give us people this real?
Hollywood has problems, too, with American Indians: Aside from the recent Thunderheart, few movies have shown us Native American life as it’s lived now, in the 20th century. The Canadian-made Clearcut attempts to bring things up to date — if it’s not entirely successful, it’s still a worthy try. A quirky mix of social conscience and Deliverance-style horror, Clearcut imagines that a tribe whose lands are being exploited by a timber baron (Bud Rickets) would call upon a psychotic, possibly supernatural hitman named Arthur (Dances With Wolves’ Graham Greene) to avenge its honor. Kidnapping the baron and bringing the tribe’s yuppie lawyer (Ron Lea) along at gunpoint, Arthur paddles into the wilderness with all sorts of Peckinpah-esque carnage in mind. If there’s a larger message here, it gets lost in the foliage, but there’s no mistaking Greene’s astonishing performance. He makes this monster both droll and terrifying, and the scene in which he bites off a snake’s head and snarls, ”That’s oral tradition,” is the kind of touch that bland blockbusters like Patriot Games could use more of. A Midnight Clear: A- Proof: A Clearcut: B