Monday, November 17, 2008

Movie Review: Passchendale (2008)

It's 1917 and the world is weary with war. Canada as part of the Commonwealth, threw in its lot when Great Britain declared war and has been suffering ever since. Young men are being slaughtered by the thousands in the mud and dreck of France while those at home are called cowards and guilted into serving. Sergeant Michael Dunne is back home in Calgary, Alberta after being diagnosed with neurasthesnia, a precursor to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He becomes involved with an army nurse and takes her younger brother under his wing. Paul Gross of "Due South" and "Men with Brooms" fame directs this account of the war at home in Canada as well as the Battle of Passchendale, one of the major operations of World War I.

The Good:

If you're a fan of war films then I think you'll enjoy the feel of authenticity in the battle scenes. Gross was dead on with the action. You get a sense of the muck, the rain and the fear. There's a grim reality here and the audience isn't spared.
An example would be the scene with the rat. The bombing is constant, almost like a white noise but you never know when you're going to bite it, when a stray bullet will leave you to drown in a rain-filled crater.

There's one scene where the camera pulls back into a wide shot of the battlefield. The blasted ground, the mud, dead soldiers, it seemed to go on forever, forcing the audience to realize the scope of the war. It was very much like the pullback in "Troy" where the amount of ships were sailing to liberate Helen was astounding.

There was some cheese towards the end with the battle scenes but I was willing to overlook that in favour of the gritty portrayals that had come before.

The Bad:

I have yet to see a war film able to balance both the action and a romance effectively. "Pearl Harbour" is a good example of why a romance has no place sharing half the screen with a war. While romance does play a part in wars as people had to live fast and make things count, it shouldn't overshadow the story you're trying to tell. Either it's a war film with a romantic side story or it's a romance film with a war side story. The two should not have equal screen time as the two opposites of love and war end up trying to tear the film apart.

The writing was choppy throughout. At times I didn't understand what the characters were talking about or what they were referring to. It became frustrating to watch as characters would cycle through scenes and instead of paying attention to the action I would be pondering the meaning of their dialogue. There was a constant repetition of painting a picture with a "man sitting on a horse" that I never understood. It felt like it was supposed to be this big symbol echoing through the movie but it just ended up being annoying.

There was also a lack of flow in moving from scene to scene. This is most evident in the war at home parts. Both of these problems may result from Gross being new to the director's chair as well as writing and producing the film. Editing may also have played a role in the choppiness of the film.

The Ugly:

Somebody find Eli Wallach.

Rating: 3.5/5

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