Monday, October 27, 2008

Passchendaele

With a budget of $20 million (which makes it the most expensive 100% Canadian movie ever),* this epic film is rather well-balanced: not a masterpiece, but hopefully not lame. Yeah, let's be proud of it! Since last year, the movie came with high expectations. However, if there's any flaws at all, they're mostly in the middle of the movie.

The movie follows Sgt. Michael Dunne (Paul Gross), a member of the 10th Battalion (whose members were historically recruited from Calgary). After he's got diagnosed with neurasthasia, Michael is sent back to Canada to work as a recruiter. Moreover, he also meets Sarah Mann (Caroline Dhavernas), a nurse whom he falls in love with. However, when Michael learns that David (Joe Dinicol), Sarah's younger brother, joined the army out of patriotism, he also decides to go back on the battlefield to look after David.

Although Passchendaele might not win the Genie Award for the best movie, it sure rivals with Saving Private Ryan and Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War! Forget the Second World War (1939-1945), the Vietnam War (1964-1975) or the American point of view on any war: should this movie be released in other countries, Passchendaele could fill a void.

If we momentarily forget how the script is built, Passchendaele is an original movie and looks like it could have been a power house judging from the trailer. After all, how many films have you seen that deals with the First World War (1914-1919) or rather the bloodiest battle of that war? However, while the script is fairly good overall (despite being predictable at times) thanks to its breathtaking ending, its middle part slightly mars the film.

As a scriptwriter, Paul Gross doesn't seem to have the sense of priority when he deals with the movie's main plots: 1) the love story between Michael and Sarah; 2) David's burning desire to join the Canadian army. Indeed, while too much focus is put on the first plot, the second one is not as developed as it should have been. This makes us feel that the love story is a little bit corny at times since it is clumsily introduced to us. Besides, this kind of excessive attention given to the love story creates some long periods. A little bit of attention could have been given to illustrate even more the social pressure that young men, like David, faced to join the army at that time, in my opinion. Hopefully, while the story is the movie's heart, it's not as cheesy as the one in Pearl Harbor.

Obviously, if the cast did a good job with the lines they had, the performance were clearly unequal. While Paul Gross (Slings and Arrows; H2O) and Caroline Dhavernas (Hollywoodland) - who forms a wonderful couple on screen - shined with their performance, Joe Dinicol's (The Virgin Suicides) character is unfortunately victim of a one-dimensional treatment during most of the movie. In short, one may notice Caroline Dhavernas's talent to play a a character who represses a family secret (that partly explains David's desire to join the army).

Finally, Passchendaele is a movie shot in the pure Hollywoodian tradition (in the good sense of the term). The final battle scene alone is worth the price of your ticket! Moreover, for those who are not familiar with the First World War, the movie's finale shows us quite well how, at that time, people still fight - albeit with a few variations - like in the 19th century, this means having battalions fighting face to face.

Rating: 3.5/5

*: One may say that Nouvelle-France, with a budget of $33 million, is the most expansive Canadian movie ever. Nonetheless, unlike Passchendaele, Nouvelle-France is a Canadian, French and British co-production.


Passchendaele
Canada (2008)
Length: 114 minutes
Genre: War drama
Screenplay: Paul Gross
Director: Paul Gross
Starring: Paul Gross, Caroline Dhavernas, Joe Dinicol, Jim Mezon, Meredith Bailey and Adam Harrington

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