Passchendaele is well-shot - visually impressive and nice to watch - and that Gross raised the budget to make this film is a Canadian epic in and of itself. Unfortunately, the fruit of his labours falls short of being the Canadian masterpiece it's been trumpeted as.
"Passchendaele" is a solid antiwar film with a romantic subplot that does nothing to detract from the movie as a whole. As director, Paul Gross reverses the usual tendency of actor-directors by emphasizing the visual over the performances which comes in handy not only in the battle scenes but also in capturing the beautiful Canadian countryside. There are other interesting stylistic choices here like muting the sound at key moments and even cross-cutting between a medical lecture and a love scene which allows for applause at just the right moment. Still, there is just something about Paul Gross on horseback as he makes for a charismatic lead while also breathing depth into his character who has his share of problems and issues.(He's not the only one as it comes out late how oedipal some of this is but don't worry I know a doctor in Vienna who can do something about that.) Those issues involve a meaningless war and how it recruits and churns out soldiers, as the movie also shows off the ugly side of patriotism.
We went in expecting a war movie. And for the opening sequence, we thought it was just that.
20 minutes later though, we realized we were had. And our neighbours laughed as my roommate and I exchanged looks of "What the hell did we get ourselves into."
I will say this about the movie: the action sequences were very well done. It effectively conveys the muddy hell that was Passchendaele. Also, it shows a side of prejudice rarely discussed: Canadian discrimination towards Germans during World War I and blackballing of WWI soldiers that came home due to the gas attacks.
That warrants half a star.
Other than that, it was "Pearl Harbour" Canadian style. But at least "Pearl Harbour" had Alec Baldwin and the "Doolittle Raids." "Passchendaele" is less about Passchendaele and more of a love story. It is a love story not so cleverly disguised as a war movie.
The script is so cheesy and bad that even James Cameron would say "WOW! This sucks!" Gross sunk $20 million into this movie, you'd think he would have hired a decent screenwriter or some decent actors.
These are two hours of my life I want back.
That being said, I would like to write a response letter to Paul Gross.
Dear Paul Gross,
Fuck you too.
First, the romance. I have no problem with romance in a war movie, but Paul Gross wrote himself some pretty terrible dialogue for these scenes. Secondly, the ending sequence. I don't mind Christian symbolism in a movie but, come on. Seriously. Also the romantic conversation about the painting had my eyes rolled firmly into my head throughout. The ~very~ last scene in the film is powerful.
So, in the end, you get an enjoyable war movie, but not a film which will go down as being historically important as Gross had aimed.
War realism is worth th e5 starts. Who wants to sit in a shell filled with water for a couple of days.
One must recall what Pogo said. "We have met the enemy, and they are us."
I have personally seen violence. I have myself met dismemberment and death. I have known the irrational devotion to a cause, that leads one, blindly, into unforeseen consequences.
This movie does an excellent job of showing the awfulness of war. And, showing us the why of the awfulness. The plot line is a bit O'Henry-ish, in coincidence and all that. But, the story is much bigger than the plot, and the dialogue.
All war is violent. That is its nature. By that very nature, war involves heartbreak and sorrow. This film does an excellent job of reminding us that this is the case. And it does an excellent job of portraying trench warfare in Europe in particular.
The story of this film? 3 stars, not more. But the film? At least 4 stars, because it is as good as a documentary at telling us what war is about. I say bravo.