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Set during the height of the First World War, Passchendaele tells the story of Sergeant Michael Dunne (Paul Gross), a soldier who is brutally wounded in France and returns to Calgary emotionally and physically scarred. While in the military hospital in Calgary, he meets Sarah (Caroline Dhavernas), a mysterious and attractive nurse with whom he develops a passionate love. When Sarah's younger asthmatic brother David (Joe Dinicol) signs up to fight in Europe, Michael feels compelled to return to Europe to protect him
Director/Writer/Star of Passchendaele, Paul Gross, is a hell of an actor. He's all leading man as he's smart, good-looking, charming and all man. The type of talent that evokes almost every single core emotion that a leading man needs in their arsenal. He's so good you wonder why he isn't starring in big Hollywood productions over in LaLa land. Then you remember: he wants to be an auteur and direct, produce and write his own pictures. All at the expense of the Canadian government and therefore at the expense of the Canadian taxpayers (mainly the province of Alberta which forked over $5.4 million dollars for the making of this film).
Passchendaele is suppose to be about the Canadian involvement in the Passchendaele battle in World War II, but doesn't get us there until two-thirds into the film. In the meantime we wait in war time Calgary as some non-emotional love story happens between the cool and collected Sergeant Michael Dunne and a nurse who has an addiction to morphine (what?). The morphine addict has a younger brother who can't go to War because he has asthma. But he really, really wants to.
Joe Dinicol plays the younger brother David Mann (LISTEN NOW: to Joe's Interview with WILDsound about the making of this film) and the plot's character catalyst. He's a solid actor but is really miscast in this role OR this role was terribly underwritten. Sometimes you can't figure it out unless you've read the screenplay or worked on the set during the making of the film. But we just don't have any emotional attachment to this character and our leading man (Gross) only has two scenes with him. In those scenes Gross gives a long speech where he's talking more to the audience than his co-star and just speaking about the themes of the movie. So in a film where all the major character choices are made because of this relationship, we don't get any relationship between the two.
Passchendaele has a lot of problems. It's basically the love-story version of Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Unfortunately Gross's war scenes are not even close to being on par with Saving Private Ryan's and again, we don't even get to the WAR SCENES until an hour and twenty minutes into the film.
During the hometown Calgary scenes, Gross films it ala classic epic Hollywood cinema. This tale is grand and so is the shooting style and distracting music. Because most people read the synopsis of the film, we know what the story is and what's going to happen, so everything is anti-climatic for 80 minutes. And even if you didn't read the synopsis (like I did and knew nothing about this film at all except it was suppose to be a war movie), the filmmaker tips his hat in such an obvious way, you know exactly what's going to happen.
All with the exception of that morphine addiction sub-plot that really isn't necessary and doesn't fit into the overall theme of Passchendaele at all. And the father of the addict and her brother has a sketchy past that effects the mood of the brother.When we (finally!) get to Passchendaele, things just happen so quickly, the movie is over before you even blink. We see David Mann run, we see David Mann on a cross and we see David Mann try to get saved ---- then the movie is over.
Passchendaele is a wasted film within the Canadian film industry that has such a large budget in comparison to the resources and marketing means the country has, there is absolutely no way this movie can ever make its money back. So what's the point? There isn't any because the irony of this 'Canadian war story' is that 9 out of 10 Canadians are more likely to rent or buy Saving Private before they ever attempt to go see Passchendaele at the cinema. And they shouldn't because it's not nearly worth the price of admission.
1 star out of 4