The Fatal Alliance: A Century of War on Film

Harper. Nov. 2023. 448p. ISBN 9780063041417. $35. FILM
Two words that recur in discussing the writing of film historian Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film) are “argumentative” (he doesn’t soft-pedal his judgments) and “trustworthy” (he knows his subject well). His 20th book lives up to that reputation on both counts. It offers a rundown of the 100 years of war films made since World War I, fought 1914–18; this book is worth reading on that count alone, so near inexhaustible is it in reach and scope. But what makes it a book any serious cineaste must read is that Thomson has thought about it all and never stops asking questions: If people hate war, why do they watch so many movies about it, and how have these films changed over the century, either in delivery or message? Do they teach viewers anything and capture what war’s really like? His answer: not often and not much. Thomson’s conclusions are consistently provocative and thoughtful, a pleasure to read.
VERDICT This stellar book is about how filmmakers simplify the bloody business of war and why audiences buy into it. Readers who enjoy vigorous arguments and good writing will love this book.
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