Johnny Got His Gun - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Johnny Got His Gun Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ July 13, 2010
I agree with Greg's (366weirdmovies) review. What cold otherwise have been a masterpiece ends up as an interesting watch due to not-so-great execution. But I guess it'd have taken a director of high talent & caliber to present this genuine story on-screen efficiently. Surely worth a watch once though, IMO.

PS: I just got to know (via 'Search Results' here) that there's a remake to this, but I don't think I'd be checking it out now. However, if someone tells you that it's executed better than the original, it's only logical you go for the better one (unless you're one of those who heavily despises remakes).
Super Reviewer
½ March 29, 2010
This is one of my favorite books of all time, so to see the film version I knew I would be somewhat disappointed. I think I liked seeing the story in my head a lot better than seeing a stoned Trumbo's version of it. I did enjoy the performances all around, though. Timothy Bottoms, Sutherland, and Jason Robards are all amazing. I did think some of the dream sequences were a little too over the top (the midgets, come on!), but overall, I think the overall message is still as powerful. This is just one of those situations where Trumbo might have just let another director take a stab at it and it would have been more interesting.
Mr Awesome
Super Reviewer
½ December 5, 2009
Dalton Trumbo was one of the top screen-writers in hollywood until being blacklisted in the communist witch hunts of the late 40s. He won an academy award, albiet anonymously for his screenplay of 1958's "The Brave One", and also wrote a pair of 1960 Oscar winning films ("Spartacus" and "Exodus"). Although his career never fully recovered to his position before the House Committee on Un-American Activities' investigation, in 1971, he was able to make his directorial debut on a film adaptation of his 1939 novel, "Johnny Got His Gun". What can be expected of a 65 year old, first time director? Surely not a masterpiece of a film, and yet that's what we got. Trumbo's story of a WWI soldier who is crippled by a mortar shell is of a vein similar to "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "The Best Years of Our Lives", in that it uses the devastating effects of war to question our beliefs of what life and death are really all about. To say the soldier is crippled is an understatement: he loses both his arms and legs, his hearing, and, although we never actually see it, his face is gone as well. He's left as nothing more than "a living pile of meat". The doctors, convinced he is for all intents and purposes brain-dead, keep him alive as a medical curiousity, to be studied and observed for research in further treatments, unaware he is conscious and can feel pain. All he can do is twist his head about, which the doctors attribute to "muscle spasms". The horror of this situation is only alleviated through various fantasies and dreams, oftentimes involving the love he left back home (Kathy Fields), Christ (Donald Sutherland), and the dead of his past, including his father (Jason Robards). Many of the flashbacks involving the soldier's family were taken directly from Trumbo's actual boyhood (in fact, the room where Trumbo's father died was used when filming the death scene of the main character's father). It's difficult, though, to tell which are the flashbacks and which are pure dreams from his imagination. It's possible that everything is a dream (something he acknowledges to himself through his subconscious). His mother (in his dreams) tells him only the soul is real, it's the flesh that's false. Some of his dreams are particularily powerful, such as his conversation with Christ, as he watches the holy carpenter crucifixes to mark the graves of dead soldiers. Christ tries to help him with his dilemma (he imagines a rat crawling on his face): "you should try to knock the rat off, and if there is no rat, it's only a dream- but I can't touch the rat, I have no arms". Christ has no answers for him. Some scenes in this film are so painful, so senseless they must be speaking to the then-fresh wounds of Vietnam. But really, war of any era is just as senseless when it comes to the human aspect. It should be recognized that it's an ugly thing to glorify war, and making it seem like it's anything other than the tragic waste of human life that it is, is reprehensible. Johnny Got His Gun gives us humanity reduced to it's most fragile state, and then asks us to judge what price is worth that cost.
Super Reviewer
½ November 16, 2009
An enemy shell blasts a WWI doughboy, leaving him armless, legless, blind and deaf; the army keeps him alive, and he slips in and out of memories, dreams and fantasies while trying to figure out how to communicate with the outside world. A great idea and likely a great novel, but the movie (directed by the book's author) was uneven; moments of tremendous emotion and wicked humor alternate with mundane dramatic moments and unconvincing acting by the younger thesps. The best scenes featured Donald Sutherland as a compassionate but ultimately impotent Jesus Christ. Luis Bunuel was originally set to direct and in fact wrote parts of the screenplay; had he been able to commit to the project, it likely would have been a classic rather than an interesting attempt.
Super Reviewer
January 11, 2009
Not your average "guns & glory" war film. In fact, this is a script that could have easily been adapted for The Twilight Zone or Tales From the Crypt. Scary and Powerful.
Super Reviewer
June 23, 2008
One of the most oppressive, disturbing and truthful declarations against the barbarity and futility of war.
Super Reviewer
March 8, 2011
It's a strange coincidence that I saw "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" just three days ago, because I didn't realize it and "Johnny Got His Gun" share the same experimental scenario: the subjective perceptions of a radically disabled man, daydreaming of happier times while struggling to communicate with his caretakers. The main difference is that "Johnny"'s Joe Bonham (Timothy Bottoms, dominating the screen in his debut film role) is presumed to be in a non-thinking, vegetative state, while "Diving Bell"'s Jean-Do was always known to be cognizant.

Maimed soldier Joe lies in a hospital bed, tucked away in a linen closet to save space. His face is half blown away and tactfully covered, and his arms and legs have been amputated. Blind and unable to speak, he has a limited interface with the world, and whatever trivial movements he makes are viewed as involuntary spasms. His identity is unknown to his doctors, and he is kept alive only as a medical curiosity.

He tries to make sense of the situation while recalling past events from his life, mostly focused on his gentle father (Jason Robards) and the girl he left behind. The hospital scenes are in black and white, while the flashbacks are in color. The color material also includes a few tepid fantasies involving Donald Sutherland as an unlikely, low-key Jesus Christ.

"Johnny Got His Gun" was the only film directed by Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, best known today for being infamously blacklisted during the McCarthy era. "Johnny" was adapted from his own 1939 novel (other Trumbo credits include "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo," "Papillon," "Roman Holiday," "Spartacus" and "Exodus"). And yet surprisingly, his screenplay is more problematic than his direction: Joe's interior monologue is far too wordy and overelaborated to be realistic. There's always a sense of him adding extra detail for the audience's benefit. And Bottoms' performance is not so sharp, and this just doubles the text's clumsiness.

Watch for David Soul ("Starsky and Hutch") and Tony Geary ("General Hospital") in small roles, early in their careers.
Super Reviewer
March 31, 2010
It is said that our entire lives flash by in the moments before we die. Depending on how you look at it, Joe Bonham(Timothy Bottoms) may not be that lucky, having been blown to smithereens in the trenches during World War I. All that could be saved of him are his torso and the essential functions of his brain. His only sense of the outside world comes through sensations felt on his skin. After he is stabilized by Colonel Tillery(Eduard Franz), Joe is stuck in a utility closet. While not yet fully aware of the horror of his situation, Joe thinks back to the last night before he left for the war, heeding the call for volunteers made with patriotic bluster in this fight for democracy, as he puts it. As he makes his farewell to his girlfriend Kareen(Kathy Fields), she begs him to reconsider and do the sensible thing by making a run for it. Joe feels his present(filmed in black and white) is a nightmare compared to his memories(filmed in color) which take a turn to the surreal with the appearance of Christ(Donald Sutherland) who is on hand to escort dead soldiers on to the next stop.

To those squeamish, I would like to point out that "Johnny Got His Gun," written and directed by Dalton Trumbo, is not graphic. Rather, it is emotionally intense and powerful in addressing the topic of the disposability of soldiers during wartime head on. But it is not only those lives that are mourned but also those people who worked their entire lives with little reward like Joe's father(Jason Robards) who we first see at his funeral. The same can also be said of Kareen's father(Charles McGraw) who also provides unexpected kindness to the couple in such a cruel world.
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
½ March 25, 2014
"Johnny got his gun, his dog day's just begun; now everybody is on the run, because Johnny got his gun." Yeah, people, I just had to break out that cliché, because I'm actually not particularly fond of Metallica's "One"... at least in its studio form (Seriously, what is up with the mixing?), although, even when you take out of account the fact that "One" is actually inspired this story, it's more fitting than "Janie's Got a Gun". Sorry, Steven Tyler, but there's no running away from this pain for Johnny, because he ain't got no legs, like Lt. Dan (Run, Forrest, run, run away from the pain!), only, you know, he also doesn't have arms, or a face, and with it, the ability to see, hear, smell, taste, speak, or grow a moustache (Looking at John, I'd imagine that's a problem for Bonhams), although he does have decent brain function... which allows him to think about his situation. ...You know what, they probably should have just left him to die, because if there are fates worse than death, then, wow, this is most certainly proof of that, which isn't to say that it's all that likely. Yeah, the Joe Bonham protagonist opens the novel up with a prologue which says that there is a million-to-one chance of something like this happening, but I'm thinking that Metallica didn't get the title "One" from that statistic, as much as they were saying that only "one" poor chump is suffering this fate, because I don't know if a human being can get this unlucky. Well, this is military fiction dealing with a World War I tragedy, and looking at the weaponry we have now that you sure hope would kill you, I think that this film fulfilled its job of making me want to join the military even less, which is good, because as much as this film thrusts that message at you, you better comply. Yeah, people, if you don't remember that this film was made in 1971, at the height of the hippie's anti-war movement, just look at the poster that flashes a big ol' piece sign at you, and while that isn't to say that this film isn't decent, it is to say that it has its share of subtlety issues, among other problems (Well, at least the film can't possibly have more problems than Joe Bonham).

Something of a meditative piece in certain places, the film has a tendency to take on a certain quietness and subtlety to its storytelling, and such a move would be more effective if it was more realized, yet as things stand, Dalton Trumbo's direction is neither thoughtful enough nor slick-paced enough for you to take the film's style for what it is, resulting in atmospheric dry spells, some of which are truly dulling. Trumbo dulls things down more than he probably should, and such an issue would perhaps not be so recurring if Trumbo had more material to meditate upon, rather than a script that he himself wrote whose excessiveness not only bloats meandering filler to the point of repetition, but also bloat material to the point of convoluting the narrative by juggling too many plot elements to feel consistent, or even focused in its progression. Dealing with the Joe Bonham characters' learning to make due with his new and horrible life, as well as with Bonham's backstory, surrealistic dreams and, just for good measure, confrontation with Christ himself (Donald Sutherland makes for quite the groovy, oddly '60s-looking Jesus in a WWI timeline), the film takes on a lot of interesting ideas, but in execution, Trumbo fails to keep controlled enough in his cinematic translation of his own novel's worthy story for the narrative to not feel overblown, repetitious and maybe even aimless. Perhaps all of the excessive layering would be more organic if the story concept was grander enough to be especially worthy of such ambition, for although this drama is certainly meaty, with plenty of layers that surprisingly feel pretty fitting (Seriously though, what was up with the Jesus segments?), the more the film struggles to flesh out its narrative, the harder it is to deny the minimalism of this subject matter, although that might simply be because much of the meat goes undercut by subtlety issues. Subject matter this devastating has be treated very delicately, because if dramatic storytelling gets carried away, the final product would be too much of an emotional challenge for you to feel the thematic weight, yet the route that Trumbo goes as storytelling is arguably just as questionable, as Trumbo actually stresses the thematic depth a touch too much, with anything from heavy-handed symbolic set pieces to sentimentality, both of which have moments in which they're not simply distancing, but cheesy as reflects of overambition. Really, at the end of the day, "ambition" is the key term which best describes this passionate meditation upon worthy subject matter, and such an overwhelming desire to compel results in plenty of realized inspiration, but once realization slips, the ambition leaves storytelling to buckle under the weight of its overly meditative atmospherics, overblown storytelling and subtlety issues, and plummet shy of its potential. The film is kind of underwhelming, and when you see just where the story could have gone, there's no denying that potential is lost, nonetheless salvaged enough for the final product to endear, sometimes grip, while at least keeping consistent in aesthetic value.

In order to reinforce its themes of distinguishing harsh reality and dreamy reality, the film really relies on Jules Brenner's cinematography, which is a touch dated, but still truly outstanding in its dynamicity, alone, gracing the hospital segments with a black-and-white color palette and emphasis on shadow that handsomely captures the subject matter's bleakness, the background segments with tastefully controlled color, and the dream segments with a heavy glow to lighting that is truly beautiful in its richness. Of course, most every segment in the stylish film is handsome, because if nothing else stands out in this drama, it's the intricately diverse and aesthetically striking visual style, so much so that the drama is almost worthy seeing just for you to observe just how playful it is with its style, or rather, how playful Dalton Trumbo is with the film's visual style. As director, Trumbo actually works pretty well with plenty of stylistic attributes, playing with the diversity of Brenner's cinematography in order to reinforce thematic and tonal dynamicity, and even with Millie Moore's snappy editing (Yeah, there are quite a few jump-cuts, but whatever) in order to add some entertaining flare, which isn't to say that Trumbo's thoughtful atmospherics are frequently too thoughtful for their own good, because even all of this heavily thoughtful storytelling wears down momentum to a dull point more often than it should, when it's realized, it immerses and moves. What further compels in this character drama is Trumbo's work with his performers, every one of which endears with his or her own distinctive portrayal, but none more so than then-newcomer Timothy Bottoms, whose grounded charisma sells the innocence of the lead Joe Bonham character, whose heavy emotional layers sells both overwhelming fear and great hope, both of which are instrumental in the selling of this film. Bottoms' solid lead performance is, of course, highly prominent in this intimate study on a man's struggles, both relatable and horrible beyond one's greatest fears, and it, combined with sharp style, inspired direction and even some clever writing, sees some powerful highlights in storytelling which is generally stands to do greater justice to a story that is itself still of limited weight. At its core, this story is kind of minimalist, and that applies sensitivity to engagement value that is, of course, undercut by the missteps within Trumbo's interpretation of his own narrative concept, yet at the same time, the basic idea behind this drama, on its own, holds too much intrigue to easily shake, being not only an interesting character study with plenty of nifty, almost surrealistic dreamy aspects, but a worthy portrait on the horrors of warfare that, despite its subtlety issues, carries plenty of water, thematically and dramatically speaking. Were there more consistency to inspiration, rather than sheer ambition, to the telling of this worthy tale, the final product would have rewarded pretty thoroughly, through all of the minimalist aspects, yet as things stand, the conceptual value and interpretation's heart prove to be enough to brink the final product at least to the brink of rewarding.

In closing, bland atmospheric spells steady a sense of momentum which is shaken enough by questionable structural pacing and a rather convolutedly overblown narrative that, alongside subtlety issues, reflect too much of an ambition to flesh out a story too conceptually minimalist for the final product to truly stand out, but through excellent and richly dynamic cinematography, thoughtful direction and strong acting - particularly by Timothy Bottoms - behind a dramatically and thematically solid story concept, "Johnny Got His Gun" stands as a highly flawed, but borderline rewardingly endearing study on the dark depths of struggle to which a human can sink.

2.75/5 - Decent
Super Reviewer
May 6, 2011
I have watched enough 'pacifist' war films in the past, but I can safely say that "Johnny Got His Gun" is the most emotionally penetrating of the bunch that also extracts tenacious hope out of despair. What makes this film, masterfully directed by Oscar winner Dalton Trumbo (who won for penning the great romantic film "Roman Holiday"), very effective in what it tries to impart to its audience's sensibilities about the inhumanities of war is its pure focus and sheer devotion to its main character.

In other films dealing with the same underlying sentiments, the message and emotions are too widely distributed to a variety of characters that they sometimes appear to be too far-fetched, hence meager in overall effect. But in "Johnny Got His Gun", which beautifully reigns on the longings and memories of the titular character and wholly explores the landscapes of his entirety, Dalton Trumbo maximized the whole film and merged Johnny's personal struggles as an extreme amputee with his flinching anti-war sentiments. It ultimately came out as a spell-binding commentary not just pertaining to the sheer senselessness of conflicts, but also regarding the endurance of the soul.

Timothy Bottoms portrays the quadruple amputee Johnny with his trademark sad eyes and deadpan energy. Through his flashbacks and overlaps of fantasies and retained memories, he leads us through an unforgettably cerebral journey inside the psyche of an ordinary man who, as told to him even by his father (great performance by Jason Robards), is nothing 'unusual'. This is not a soldier whose life is filled with overachieving decorations or countless belligerence in the battlefield. He is a simple man with the same existential woes like other people usually have. But what separates him among others is his sense of 'hope'.

This film could have easily drifted into an unfathomable territory of pity and despair. But with Dalton Trumbo's attention to emotional balance, while enhanced by Jules Brenner's cinematography, "Johnny Got His Gun" surprisingly tiptoes between sets of spirited humor amidst its pessimistic undertones. But aside from all of these, the film is also quite articulate in its seemingly elegiac approach to religious 'faith'.

Eccentrically surrealist as it may seem to be, Donald Sutherland's 'Christ' is not shown as an omniscient observer but as a man of wisdom capable to immerse. He gambles with the soldiers, he fancies carpentry and he also signs checks. This can simply be a visual injection by Luis Bunuel who did an uncredited screenplay contribution to the film, but it is still subtly affecting in its approach.

"Johnny Got His Gun" fully suggests that in times of chaos, especially those created and prolonged by the follies of men, God does not merely watch from above but guides in close contact. But also as what the film's theme suggests, he is also imperfect in his own right.

There's a significant exchange in the film where the military doctor asks the priest to convince Johnny to put his faith in God. The priest, after seeing the poor condition of Johnny's physical predicament, tells the astute military doctor that he will not risk testing Johnny's faith against his (the doctor) stupidity. Johnny is a product of the military doctor's profession, after all. It's a conversation rooted out from situational desperation but it's quite obvious that the failure of the military doctor to reply to the priest's indirect accusation alludes to his acceptance of the generalized mistakes created by his occupation.

The film, although has raised some potent promises regarding the condition of men of duty like Johnny, is a bleak observation of casualties and the secretive tendencies of 'war' and its officials. And as if out of nowhere, it is evenly contrasted with the demonstrativeness of a 'freak show' on a traveling carnival. The latter may exploit, but it does not, in any way, take lives so relentlessly as the first.

Many films have shown emotional desensitization in the middle of violence and carnage. But "Johnny Got His Gun" does not put itself along those lines that may just evoke mindless, machismo-filled indifference; the film is, after all has been said, a liberating study of the maddening physical limitations of a man nowhere to retreat but his collective dreams and his conscious mind. It tells of the imminence of hopelessness yet it struggles for life. Dalton Trumbo and Johnny. They prefer the 'carnival' more.
Super Reviewer
½ August 25, 2008
Funny to think that I watched it because of a (great) Metallica song.
Super Reviewer
½ April 27, 2006
Wonderfully put together, this anti-war film's occasional cheesiness is eclipsed by its stunning plotline.
July 11, 2014
It's a hard movie to shoot when your narrator is meant to be deaf, mute and blind. They skip the menace and harrowing chill of the book for more of a general sadness. You feel bad for Joe, but you don't feel his terror. That said, well shot and certainly emotional at times. They made use of the best scenes in the book and hammered them home.
January 23, 2013
If I ever get the verge to watch this semi-boring flick again I will just stick with the Metallica video.
½ March 15, 2011
Great book, great movie. trapped within part of a body, unable to communicate. . .reliving the events of his life, leading to his taking part in World War I and being forever changed. . .forever trapped within himself. horrible and fascinating, gut-wrenching and provocative.
Super Reviewer
January 8, 2011
A very well told and original anti war movie, that had many moments of tension. Loved the black and white reality to the colorful dreams and flashbacks. Well acted as well andf was very surprised to see Donald Sutherland in this. This is a must watch and I know I will probably watch it again. A bit sad and depressing though.
June 17, 2009
Much like The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, it's a film whose unique narrative concept you eventually get used to, and you eventually realize it benefits the film greatly. An obvious war, military, and parental brainwashing critique centered on a likable main character embodying naivety, innocence and misfortune. Using the ill luck that war injuries can inflict, it can pull at your heart strings, it can anger you, and leave you rethinking your position on militarism. Sad fucking film. See it.
½ June 6, 2010
The film made famous by the Metallica video and song "One" I actually saw this film before the video premiered on MTV and let me tell you, this film is downright disturbing. To give you an idea the hell the main character Johnny is enduring close your eyes and imagine for just a second what this guy's life is like after losing his limbs, eyes, ears, mouth and nose. He can't speak to tell the doctors to kill him. He can't hear to learn that the doctors and nurses are trying their best to save him somehow. He can't move, but has to to lie there and feel them prod him with needles and is helpless to help himself. The scenes of him knocking Morse Code on his hospital bed asking the nurse to kill him resonate even today. Worth a viewing just be prepared for a dark film that leaves you with a sick feeling in your stomach.
December 14, 2009
Morbid and depressing, a surprising lack of regard to period detail, it seemed longer than it?s 1 hour and 45 minute length. Very talky, and I found it painfully slow moving at times. It is moving, and it does make a statement through some very disturbing scenes.
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