Johnny Got His Gun Reviews
War - What is it good for?
The book is one of my favorites of all time, and if I eventually remake it as a famous director, I would want to leave the ending unscathed.
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
No, seriously, I finished the film some hours ago and still feel sick when I look back to the experience.
It's devastating, and thoroughly unenjoyable to see a young man without any limbs, eyes, teeth or ears (thankfully, you don't actually get to see him, but only under bandages and sheets) suffer. He can't interact with anyone around him and can merely sense what's going on around him, and retreats into a world of dreams and memories (although it's hard for him to distinguish if he's awake or sleeping).
He recalls his last days with his sweetheart back at home, his childhood and his war memories and discusses faith with some kind of Jesus Christ incarnation.
Johnny Got His Gun combines the depressive morality of All Quiet on the Western Front with the devastating personal drama of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. If you're able to suffer through this almost unbearable movie you'll be rewarded with a new cinematic shock experience you won't find in the near future.
But that's exactly my main point of criticism as well. I have the feeling, that the film is too harsh and too brutal at moments. I guess only few can watch this film sincerely without being distracted from disgust, thus the film takes away some of its impact by itself.
Anyways, this is one of the most cruel and most effective anti-war films I've ever seen (although it hardly features any fight scenes) and as long as you don't have a weak stomach, I can only recommend you watching it.