This is hands down the best WW1 film ever made. It has none of the Hollywood triteness or silly conventions that pollute virtually all other Hollywood war movies. There are very few symphony orchestras on battlefields and there are none in this one. On real battlefields men rarely scream when they are hit. They just blow apart, drop, or keep going when they are hit, although they may cry with pain afterward. Battle orders are not given with some histeric little actor's scream. They are issued coolly and matter-of-factly, just as they are in real battle. This film depicts the violence of war as it really is.
The action is depicted on the slopes of the Argonne Forest in October. There are no trenches and very little rain, as winter is just setting in. The previous reviewers have described well the plot and political implications of the film, so there's not much left to say.
I would, however call attention to the few reviewers who have given this film low marks. One can quickly see that they were rating the idiocy of war, the stupidity of some Headquarters commanders, or some other aspect of war, not the quality of the film. They are making political statements by rating the film low. Take that into consideration. I can think of no faults in this film. It is perfectly written, perfectly cast, perfectly acted, perfectly filmed, and perfectly edited. It is a spellbinder from start to finish, and it is true.
It is also interesting to note that Major Whittlesey, the actual commanding Officer of the unit depicted, committed suicide three years after the events depicted. He was obsessed with brooding over the decisions he made that resulted in 300 of the 500 of his men getting killed because he tenatiously followed orders to hold his position. Three Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded as a result of the action depicted.
There was a silent movie made about "The Lost Battalion" in 1919, in which director Burton L. King used the soldiers themselves to film the story, which was more of a documentary re-enactment than a theatrical film. It was not until 2001 that such a film telling the story of the 77th was finally produced. Rick Schroder plays Maj. Charles White Whittlesey, the battalion commander and a New York City lawyer who thinks his group's assignment is a suicide mission. Of course his concerns are dismissed, because if there is one iconic image of World War I infantry it is that of climbing out of trenches to be mowed down by enemy machine guns (e.g., "Gallipoli"). Whittlesey's battalion is ordered to advance into the Argonne, and to take and hold their position at all cost. With their lines of communication cut except for a handful of carrier pigeons and a few desperate efforts by American airplanes to locate and contact the surrounded unit, the men of the 77th do not really understand how desperate their plight is or that their efforts would be the key to breaking the German lines and leading to Armistice Day.
The unit is made up of mostly young men from New York City, who look at their fellow soldiers who hail from places like Montana as if they were from another planet. There is an element in the story of how combat forges a melting plot here, and there is a telling scene where one soldier explains that while he came from Poland he is now an American because he took the test and nobody gets to say that he is not. It is left to Lt. Leak (Jay Rodan) to explain to a German intelligence officer: "What you're up against Major, is a bunch of Mick, Pollack, Dago, and Jew boy gangsters from New York City. They'll never surrender. Never." The German generals are used to the methodical approach of the French army and do not know what to make of the rash Americans, whose actions are deemed unpredictable if not evidence of outright madness. These are officers and troops who complain about going on the mission in the first place, but who rise up in righteous indignation and anger when the Germans show up with flamethrowers.
For once the use of hand-held cameras works to the advantage of the story when the technique is used to film the attacks across No Man's Land and in the Argonne Forest (although as a general rule the use of the technique combined with constant cutting from shot to shot in action movies is quickly driving me to distraction). One of the strengths of the production is that most of the faces of the actors are unfamiliar (Phil McKee from "Band of Brothers" might is the obvious exception to prove the rule), so you have no problem thinking of them as the actual soldiers they are portraying. The biggest weakness of the film is that the foreshadowing with regards to Whittlesey is a big heavy handed, as is the growing respect the Germans have for the American detachment they cannot obliterate. The script overplays both of those understandably necessary elements.
The DVD also includes a History Channel documentary on "Dear Home: Letters from World War I," which combined archival film footage from the period and actual letters written by the Doughboys and nurses who fought in the war. This is a nice complimentary piece to the movie, especially given how little most Americans know about what actually happened in the War to End All Wars. If most Americans can name "Sgt. York" as a WWI movie they have seen that might be par, especially given how many other movies about the period are from the German perspective (e.g., "All Quiet on the Western Front," "The Blue Max"). The obvious reference point for most Americans will the story of the besieged 101st Airborne as Bastonge during World War II's Battle of the Bulge. There are so few films about World War I that it is not surprising that when we actually have one like "The Lost Battalion" they tend to stand out.
That is also why so many fault the limited information provided at the end of this film telling us what happened to Whittlesey and some of the other key members of the 77th. You do not have to do much research on this true story to learn that Whittlesey committed suicide a few years later, which lends a definite pathos to Schroeder's performance and his character's anguish over the idea of "acceptable losses" Gen. Robert Alexander (Michael Brandon) keeps harping. But you can see how "The Lost Battalion" combines the heroism associated with American soldiers in World War II movies with the lack of faith in American commanders that is a key theme in movies about the Vietnam War. A nice documentary exploring the history of the 77th and how this helped end the war would have been a helpful addition, certainly much more than the biography and filmography of Rick Schroeder.