Runtime 107 minutes
War is hell, and you can quote me. All wars are brutal. In fact, what happens in war is so bad that the horror cannot be conceived without actually living through it. While it is hard to believe that anything could be worse than the war that the U.S. Marines fought against the diabolically brutal Japanese during World War II pursuant to Gen. MacArthur’s island hopping strategy, World War I qualifies.
One of the reasons was the futility of the trench warfare. In 1918 alone more than 1,700,000 soldiers were killed. For the entire war (4+ years) about 10 percent of all fighting soldiers were killed. This compares with 4.5 percent in World War II. For British and Dominion troops serving on the Western Front in WWI, the proportion of troops killed was 12.5 percent, while the total proportion of troops who became casualties (killed or wounded) was a staggering 56 percent.
This film, based on a 1928 play by RC Sherriff and the novel by Sherriff & Vernon Bartlett, was directed by Saul Dibb from a screenplay by Simon Reed, and rivals the best war films ever made. It captures the ghastliness and despair felt by each and every soldier in the trenches.
The film joins the war in March 1918. A fuzzy cheeked young officer, Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), arrives in France and requests to be assigned to C-Company because he wants to serve under Capt. Stanhope (Sam Claflin), who is his former schoolhouse monitor and the man who is apparently loved by his sister.
The general to whom he reports suggests that that’s not a good idea, because he knows (but does not reveal to Raleigh) that there is a German offensive being planned for the area C-Company occupies, the largest of the war. But Raleigh insists.
When he reports for duty he finds that Stanhope is hopelessly depressed and is trying to hide his fear of what appears to be inevitable death in whiskey.
Bringing calm, or trying to, anyway, is his second in command, Lieut. Osborne (Paul Bettany), upon whom Stanhope leans as a pillar of strength.
That’s the setup. What follows is a brilliant exposition of what life was like in the trenches and the futility of even trying to hope. The battle scenes are excruciatingly realistic.
For an indie it has an exceptionally fine cast which includes, in addition to those mentioned above, Toby Jones and Tom Sturridge, both in fine performances, equal to those by Claflin, Butterfield and Bettany. The only movie with which I can compare it is Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957), but that film doesn’t have the outstanding lifelike battle scenes of this one.
Opens Friday, March 16.