The Execution of Private Slovik (pronounced “Slovak”) is the made-for-TV telling of Eddie Slovik’s execution for desertion in Europe during the second World War; the only time an American soldier has been executed for this since the American Civil War. Like all stories based on actual events, we already know the end and the way the filmmaker deals with that challenge can be the making or breaking of the film.
The film opens with open conversation of the execution and how it is to happen. It is this type of story telling, early on, that sets the style up as documentary in nature. The dialogue between characters lays down details of the context and process of the story and the actions within. We don’t even see Solvik, portrayed by Martin Sheen, until quite some time into the film.
When we meet Sovik we find a man we’re not prepared for. A man accepting of his end and understanding of the situation. We’re instantly gripped by this character that defies our expectations, and Sheen carries us with him until the end. We see the story of Eddie Slovik told retrospectively by jumping back to his youth in the US, and hear voiceovers of friends and family from his life to narrate it.
The Execution of Private Slovik is not just a film about this man, it tells a story of the insanity of war as a whole and the story of an everyman. We grow to know and love Slovik like a distant friend, and feel with him as the fates almost conspire against him. Not only this, the director educates us about a darker side to World War II, a world of the draft and families torn apart and men not built for violence commanded to kill their fellow man.
This movie is a must see. Don’t expect explosions and dramatic shoot-outs, but be prepared to be glued to the screen from the moment the opening crawl crests the television.