I thought it would be nice for me to be just a bit topical with these next few posts. The anniversary of Canada’s entrance into WWI has recently passed us by, and i thought it would be nice for me to review the WWI movies that i have in my collection to mark the occasion.
I myself have an interest in WWI, particularly with Canada’s involvement in it. I remember it being quite a revelation when i learned that after the Battle of Vimy Ridge* was won by the Canadian Corp they from that point on never lost a battle in that awful war. Indeed, they earned the reputation as an elite unit in that war, and that reputation managed to help Canada earn an international identity.*
With all of that in mind, i was absolutely delighted to hear about the making of Passchendaele. It was and i believe still is the most expensive film ever made in Canada**, that and the fact that it is a Canadian made film about WWI, only added to my interest.
Canadian soldier Micheal Dunne makes the almost impossible promise to the love of his life Sarah Mann, of not dying in the brutal trenches of WWI, and protecting her head strong brother.
Well, i can say for certain that Passchendaele at least looks like it cost as much as it did. Considering most Canadian films look like they were shot on shoe string budgets, it’s nice to see a home grown movie loo like other big budget affairs. The production design creates turn of the century Calgary, and the various battle grounds of WWI with great clarity and detail.
The acting, which is also something that haunts lower budget films is also for the most part pretty solid. All of the supporting players, perform amiably and are very much likeable in their roles.
Where the film shines most is during the battle and trench scenes. Paul Gross, spares no punches in showing how nasty the conditions that those men lived and died in.
The second most important flaw in Passchendaele would have to be Paul Gross himself. While he isn’t a bad actor by any means, he is certainly guilty of over acting a lot here. He wrings the melodrama out of the script with both hands occasionally, and it doesn’t help that the dialogue is a bit on the stiff and on the nose side in a few too many scenes. Considering also he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in the film may also lend it all a bit of a self aggrandising feel.
The most important flaw in the film will of course be its story. Quite frankly the movie isn’t about the battle of Passchendaele, not even in the slightest; as it’s far more interested in telling its middling love story. While the three leads end up participating in that awful battle, the view of it is so focused on their roles that you really get no sense of the situation as a whole.
That is the most frustrating thing about the film; after a well done opening action sequence the film leaves the western front to spend the entirety of its second act in Calgary. As a result the movie feels more like Road to Avonlea, then Paths of Glory. While attempting to show the home front is an interesting idea, it is used mostly as a back drop to the budding romance between Dunne and Mann. I get the feeling this was a way of saving money while also making it more marketable in order to get money.
It all could’ve worked, which is again another point of frustration, as the important scenes of drama and romance could have worked as flashbacks, or letters home. Had the film only focused on actually being about WWI i truly believe it could have been a great movie about that war.
Passchendaele ultimately is a frustrating affair. When it focuses its story on the events and conditions of WWI it stands admirably with other big budget war films, however in the end the film really isn’t about WWI. It turns out to be a middling love story set against a much more interesting back drop.
** 1/2 OUT OF FIVE
*I highly, highly recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in WWI, and particularly Canada’s involvement within to pick up Tim Cook’s two book series “At the Sharp End” and “Shock Troops”, as it is endlessly interesting, and very much a good read.
**20,000,000. It’s not a big number considering a raunchy comedy like Horrible Bosses cost 35 million, and honestly that is a pretty modest budget for a Hollywood film…