release date: 17 October 2008 (Canada)
run time: 114 mins
considered: Drama, History, Romance, War
director: Paul Gross
starring: Paul Gross, Caroline Dhavernas, Joe Dinicol, Meredith Bailey, Jim Mezon, Michal Greyeyes, Adam Harrington, Gil Bellows, James Kot, Jesse Frechette, Rainer Kahl, Landon Liboiron, Patricia Benedict, Hugh Probyn, Brain Dooley
movie summary: The year is 1917, and Canada is a young country about to take its place on the world stage by entering World War I. Sergeant Michael Dunne (Paul Gross) is a soldier fighting for the Canadian Forces 10th Battalion and was almost killed when a bomb injured him. As he lay in the rumble and dirt, Michael passes out, only to wake up in the triage center with a beautiful nurse (Caroline Dhavernas) taking care of him. Michael continues to have flashbacks to his last moment on the battlefield, where he just stuck his bayonet through a young soldier’s skull. He sleeps on the floor until his injuries heal and mustered up the courage to ask the lovely nurse out. She kindly refuses and excuses herself. A fellow nurse tells Michael her name is Sarah, and as he walks out of the center, he doesn’t know if he will ever see her again.
Sergeant Dunne returns to Calgary, Alberta, where he will serve as a recruiter. His main job will require him to go on a speaking tour to share his experiences of the war and why we, the country, need to continue to fight the good fight. While in the office, he will interview recruits to help fill the military ranks as thousands return home dead. David Mann (Joe Dinicol) is a young 18-year-old kid with a lovely girlfriend, Cassie (Meredith Bailey), and desperately seeks her father’s approval. David has been rejected by several recruiters before because he has asthma, and Sergeant Dunne refuses him too. When Michael realizes that David is Sarah’s brother, he stops by their house to ask for a date. When that gets shot down, he returns with two horses for a ride through the river valley. Michael has fallen head over heels for Sarah, but she is hesitant to like him back since she is pretty messed up from when her father left them.
When Michael’s superior officer finds out that Sarah’s dad served in the German Imperial Army, he tells everyone in the town, forcing her and her brother to leave. David is so furious about what their dad did for the bad guys that he convinces his girlfriend’s father to clear him of his asthma so he can enlist. Sarah is under the impression that Michael signed David up and develops a hatred for him. After spending a few nights together, Sarah and Michael began a romantic relationship by sharing their deepest darkest secrets. When Sarah calls him out about enlisting David, Michael doesn’t know what to say because he has no knowledge of this. He feels the only way to make this up to her is by re-enlisting him under a false name to be by David’s side on the battlefield.
Within a few months, Private Mann and Private McCrae (Michael Dunne) are in the mud trenches of Belgium, where the German Empire threatens to take a small town called Passchendaele. In the pouring rain, Michael is called into headquarters, where his identity is blown, but instead of facing punishment, he is promoted to platoon leader. His mission is to head north, engage in hand-to-hand combat with a group of German soldiers, and hold the line so that when the rest of the troops come, the forces can capture and hold the town of Passchendaele. The rain continues to come down harder and harder as Michael and David prepare their trenches and guns for the impending attack. Michael must keep his promises to Sarah to protect David and not die.
my thoughts: Passchendaele is one of the few mainstream war movies about the Canadian Forces and their efforts in World War I and II. The most successful mission in Canadian history may be the capture of Vimy Ridge, but the battle of Passchendaele would rank right up there. November 11th is known as Remembrance Day, a day to honor and celebrate the sacrifices of the men and women who serve in the Forces to help protect the rights and freedoms of Canadians. I know several people who currently serve in the Canadian Forces and would like this movie review to be for them and their efforts to help keep Canada, my second home, a fantastic place where I can live out all my dreams.
Paul Gross is a well-known Canadian actor who starred in a series called Due South. The show was based on a Canadian Mountie who moved to the United States to solve a murder case and how awkward life was for him to blend into American society. That show put Gross on the map as a mainstream actor and allowed him to follow his passion for writing director and star in Passchendaele. War movies are never for the faint of heart, and though this movie is rated 14A, there are a few scenes where people lose body parts and heads. Those images are the price of being in the war, people dying for their country is the worst part of battles, but it drives home the point of how much war can cause society. People always look at the financial costs of war, and rarely do they take a moment to realize the amount of human sacrifice that is involved in a massive world war. Only today do we look back at history, and the impact of the death toll affects our plans and strategies for future conflicts.
The main point of this story is to focus on three individuals in a time of critical need. Canadians are dying by the handfuls every day, and recruiters have tried everything they can to enlist any able man to join the fight, only to return home in a box. You get the sense through watching this movie that if you were old enough to serve but were not serving, then you were a coward. The Michael Dunne character suffers a lot in the film, and even though he served his country honorably, it is not enough to please his superior officers and the people of Calgary. When he’s ready to move on from the bloodshed, he falls in love with a beautiful woman with deep dark secrets. Their passion will try its best to overcome the war, but World War I will bring these two together in an age where fighting has been known to tear relationships apart.
One of the biggest hurdles they must overcome to be together is her idiot brother. David Mann is misguided and never thinks of the consequences of his actions. He will only realize his stupidity while sitting in a pool of water in the middle of a muddy battlefield. By then, it may be too late to change his mind and the direction of his life, but that was the choice he decided to make, all for the sake of love.
As I mentioned in an early paragraph, love is the main focus of this story which is supposed to be about the battle of Passchendaele. I remember watching this movie at the theatre and left amazed at the passion shown between Michael and Sarah on top of the great battle scenes. Some of you may watch this movie someday and be disappointed; this movie isn’t like Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, Fury, or any other kind of war movie, but it doesn’t set out to be that way. Paul Gross gives us an epic love story set in the first world war. Love can overcome many things, but sometimes, love just isn’t enough to win battles and save lives.
Passchendaele is the most expensive Canadian-made movie ($20 million according to IMDb.com), and I can see why. The cast is a bunch of rather nobody, but the action sequences were engineered with the help of real Canadian Forces soldiers who served in Afghanistan and other tours of duty. The writers tried their best to present a real-life simulation of the fighting conditions and lifestyle back in 1917, and in my opinion, they did a fantastic job. In a world where communication was not as advanced as today, fighting out on the battlefields was tough back then. Throw in equipment that isn’t state of the art, the pouring rain, and hundreds of miles of muddy battlegrounds, and you will only get a glimpse of what Canadians battled through during World War I.
my final thoughts: According to my IMDb rating, I had Passchendaele a 10/10 rating back in 2008. I will stick with my rating even though, as I watched it last night, I wasn’t drawn into it like I used to be. I still love the movie (since I own it) and love it for a variety of reasons. I feel it positively showcases Canada with the breathtaking scenery of southern Alberta and the struggles soldiers endured fighting for the maple leaf. Passchendaele will not be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a solid story with excellent character development about Canada, this may be worth a watch. Maybe you’ll find something to love about it just as much as I did.
my star rating: 10 out 10
imdb: 6.6 out 10
rottentomatoes: 36% out 100%