"Overlord", from director Stuart Cooper, is a movie about the specifics and the ambiguities of war. It’s a film that dares to compare the rigorous efficiency of combat training with the unstructured chaos of combat itself; as well as with the dense, occasionally incomprehensible politics that often justify going to war in the first place. There’s another way that this film is daring, too, one which has helped to earn it a place among the acclaimed war films of all time: its main character’s journey is interspersed with actual documentary footage shot during WWII, lending literal realism to an otherwise melodramatic hero’s journey. The effect is no less than staggering.
Criterion, as usual, goes beyond the call of duty with the extra features included - there’s enough here to make you think "Overlord" actually is a well-recognized classic film. Let’s get the light stuff out of the way first: the Blu-ray release includes a theatrical trailer for the film, as well as an audio commentary recorded by Cooper and actor Brian Stirner. Next up are some propaganda films: first, a 3-minute clip of a newsreel that shows up in "Overlord" (that one’s called "Germany Calling") and second, a 15-minute documentary that looks at the efforts of photographers to capture and report on combat ("Cameramen at War".)
The rest of the extra features keep their sights rested on Cooper himself. We get a roughly 10-minute feature where Cooper discusses the influence of Robert Capa’s D-Day photography on "Overlord." There’s a short film he directed included as well, entitled "A Test of Violence," which details the Spanish artist Juan Genoves.
We also get 20 minutes or so of audio readings from soldiers’ journals (the soldiers referenced here were among the inspiration for the film) accompanied by an introduction from Cooper.To wrap things up, there’s a 25-minute documentary - "Mining the Archive" - that gives background information on, and provides additional footage of, the combat photography that’s often spliced into "Overlord." It’s that footage, cut into "Overlord," that makes it such an essential document. You can’t classify this film as either fiction or documentary - a crowning achievement, in and of itself.