‘The Liberator’ defies expectations

By Patrick Brady, Staff Writer 

Netflix’s new animated war drama, “The Liberator,” has some great depictions of battle, along with heart-wrenching moments. Unlike most Netflix originals, the story doesn’t lose track of its heart, even when tasked with depicting the horrors of war.

“The Liberator” was based on a book by Alex Kershaw, titled “The Liberator: One World War II Soldier’s 500-Day Odyssey.”

It was released to Netflix on Nov. 11.

The TV show stars Bradley James as Felix Sparks, a U.S. Army infantry commander who leads a group of soldiers from Italy to a German concentration camp, and Martin Sensmeier as Sgt. Samuel Coldfoot, a demoted Indian soldier who Sparks elects as sergeant.

Additionally, the show features Jose Miguel Vasquez as Cpl. Able Gomez, Forrest Goodluck as Pvt. Cloudfeather, and Bryan Hibbard as Cpl. Hallowell.

The Thunderbirds, the group of soldiers led by Sparks, get involved in a gunfight with the Germans during the show’s opening three minutes. Luckily, none of the Thunderbirds is injured or killed. A day later, Sparks is struck by a bullet while in combat, and the team has to call for a medic.

After the event, there is a flashback to two years earlier in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Sparks has re-enlisted in the Army because he is low on cash. Once Sparks sets up the team, it transitions back to the day after he got shot. Sparks is in the hospital with a wound that should have killed him.

While the series is short, the four episodes do deliver a satisfying look into the soldiers who fought in World War II. With that being said though, the show could have benefitted from an extra episode or two, since the first episode left a lot to be desired – the story was rushed and the characters felt stale in the first half of the first episode.

The series moves quickly uphill after the first episode though, and doesn’t lose track of its main goal – to tell a linear, character-driven story. Even though not all the characters are fully fleshed out, almost every soldier has a backstory and different motivations.

Much like HBO’s “Band of Brothers,” the show isn’t afraid to hold back on the violence. But then again, the cartoony animation makes the blood and gore less impactful and realistic.

Although there is a lot of controversy surrounding the show’s animation, I found it to add to the story. Even though it can look like a Snapchat filter at times, the animation’s design and color pallet never took away from the experience. But the particle effects can look bad at times, along with the fire and debris.

Despite not having a star-studded cast, the actors were quite talented and gave accurate portrayals of soldiers caught in a warzone. In particular, James brought the character of Sparks to life by the ability to produce a wide range of emotions.

The show’s writing is exceptional as well – the story isn’t all about the atrocities that occur in war. In fact, a lot of the scenes revolve around personal dialogue between Sparks and his men.

There was never a dull moment in the show, despite having a rough, disjointed first episode. If the characters weren’t engaged in conversation with each other, then there would be battle sequences.

Even though it was animated, the show never felt constrained to hold back from the violence and vulgarity. It took full advantage of the TV-MA rating for its adult audience. Since war is a sensitive subject, I do appreciate that the show’s creators didn’t fall for the family friendly TV-14 rating.

Along with the script and acting, the soundtrack is well-composed and got loud when it needed to – primarily in the war sequences. Also, the cinematography was near flawless – especially during the aerial-view shots.

“The Liberator” doesn’t gloss over the brutality of war, but manages to keep the audience engaged through powerful performances and vibrant animation. While it does have its downsides, like all miniseries do, the show’s messages never feel forced or overly preachy. Despite getting off to a slow start, “The Liberator” quickly regains its footing and doesn’t lose sight of its goal until the credits roll.

“B+”

Do yourself a favor and don’t watch the trailers for the show – they don’t justify the experience.