Saturday, 26 September 2020
Written by Sandra Fitzpatrick   
Thursday, 30 October 2008 18:22

ThumbnailI’m as patriotic as any Canadian and probably more so than most in these times of illegal elections and stock market plunges. But I also try to be an honest film critic, and unfortunately good Canadians and good Canadian movies are not often one and the same. In the case of Passchendaele, a dramatic historical war epic, I was hopeful that the two would unite. The result wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for.

The film opens with an attention grabbing battle sequence in which we meet Sergeant Michael Dunne (Paul Gross). A natural leader, he is horrified when what remains of his platoon is literally torn apart by enemy gunfire. In shock he single-handedly takes out the band of German soldiers responsible, including an unarmed youth who pleads “comrade” right before Dunne stabs his bayonet through the boys’ skull.

Shell shocked, and disgusted by his own actions he is sent home to recover where he falls in love with Sarah, a nurse who is fighting her own personal battles on the home front. It is through his love for her that he eventually returns to war and finds redemption.

Canadian actor Paul Gross is perhaps best known for his role in the television series Due South, but with Passchendaele he tosses aside the Mountie hat in favor of several others. He’s writer, director, producer, actor, and apparently he even wrote a song for the film – all in a fit of inspiration brought on by his grandfather’s war stories. There is no doubt that Passchendaele was a “passion project” for Gross.

Sometimes it’s wise to accept a helping hand though, and in the case of this film the writing could have used some work. I found the script week and the character development to be rather poor. Gross’ character comes across as too perfect, always armed with the perfect Hallmark words of wisdom and a well-hardened fist when those words don’t hit their mark. Sarah (Caroline Dhavernas) is the perfect fragile angel, needing to be rescued but then finding her own inner strength. Most of the movie takes place in the foothills of Alberta where the two fall in love during a series of idyllic horseback riding dates through spectacular scenery. There’s not only one, but two love stories to tell. The second one involves Sarah’s whiny younger brother David (Joe Dinicol) who is obsessed with joining the war in order to prove his worth to his girlfriends’ upper class family.

ThumbnailThose hoping for non-stop Hollywood style action will be disappointed. I liked that the movie wasn’t all about adrenaline and fighting (like Saving Private Ryan for example), but found myself shaking my head at some of the dialog, which just didn’t make much sense a lot of the time. The musical score can also be a bit overwhelming during scenes where not much is going on – a jaunty tune as someone walks down the street for example.

The movie finds its salvation again in the last sequence – the actual battle of Passchedaele – where the cinematography is just beautiful. The rain beats down and the men sit in trenches of mud – just wallowing there, waiting to fight with no end or hopes of home in sight. It’s a situation most of us couldn’t begin to imagine finding ourselves in and the hopelessness of being a soldier under these circumstances must be absolutely horrifying.

Passchendaele uses its budget of $20-million wisely on screen, but would have benefited greatly from a rewrite.