I was very exicted the other night when I was able to get my girlfriend to come and see the movie Passchendaele with me. I have wanted to see the movie ever since the first time I heard it was being made, as the historic World War I battle is one that I have read about several times over the past decade.
This was the first time I had watched something with Paul Gross outside of his stage acting. No, I was never a fan of, nor did I ever watch an episode of, North of 60. I grew up while that show was on the air, but I was as inclined to watch Canadian content then as I am now as a member of the media.
Let me start by saying, this film was not what I expected. Let me continue by saying, that's not a good thing.
For starters, there was more done with the background love story of the film than their was of anything relating directly to the title battle. I was expecting there would be some build to the climactic struggle over Passchendaele, but nor did I expect so much of the film to be caught up in sub-plot. And if it wasn't sub-plot, then why deceive us by calling the movie by the name of the battle and not something more important to look at the undertakings at hand in Work War II Calgary.
In the first 5 minutes of the film, the exciting beginning that explains the battle origin of our main character played by Paul Gross. The scene shows the incident that is the core event starting the sequence of the film, a very tragic meeting between German and Canadian soldiers in the ruins of a town that lead to a gruesome stabbing of a young German soldier.
When that started the film, I got excited. I was finally going to see a true Canadian war movie. My expectation was to see the tragic journey of Gross' character from hospital to recovery to battleground and back again. Then the scene switched to Calgary and I knew that something just wasn't right.
For the next hour, at least, of the movie, the viewer is subjected to a sappy love story with family and friends sub-plots that had me cringing in my seat. Think Pearl Harbour with better actors but 10 times the cheese.That is, at least, the reaction I had as the movie began to unfold. In all honesty, the only thing that kept me in my seat during this torturous sequence was the knowledge that eventually, the war scenes must ultimately return in order to due justice to the very name of the film.
But I digress...
Once the love story plays out, as do the other sub-plots, they all culminate on the outskirts of Passchendaele, just a day, or perhaps even two, before the historic battle takes place. From here on out, this movie was worth the price of admission. I was impressed with the portrayal of the battlegrounds and trenches. The images leapt out at me as if to pour out of the pages of history. I felt them to be a very acurate portrayal based on the many World War I texts I have read, and was impressed with the many details placed throughout.
The battle itself, to me at least, left nothing to be desired. It was a very strong representation of what I believe it must have been like. The explosions, the gunfire, the look of the soldiers, all seemed perfectly placed on the riddled French battlegrounds.
The climax to the movie, when Paul Gross' character finds the strength to take his lover's brother across No Man's Land on the crucifix on which he hung, was an incredibly emotional moment. I looked around the theatre to see people who were of the age to have known relatives who fought in the Great War, and they all struggled to watch. It was an unbelievable representation on so many levels. I was, as amazing as this is, speechless.
I have to say to anyone who reads this that is very much a Pearl Harbour-esque war movie, and not Platoon. The hardcore war-movie enthusiasts I expect would have a similar reaction to that of my own, struggling through the 'Calgary' part of the movie just knowing that the battle is yet to come. After all, had they not presented this movie in the sequence that they did, I certainly wouldn't be able to tell you how it ended...