Callousness of War

This British drama puts viewers in the trenches

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journey’s End
Roxy Film Theatre

Opens April 6
3.5 out of 5

Even though R.C. Sherriff’s 1928 play Journey’s End, which is set in the waning days of World War I, has been adapted numerous times, it always feels fresh. Probably because war is always in fashion, and the young and the poor are invariably the first casualties.

The most recent take on the story by director Saul Dibb (The Duchess) does a commendable job of opening up the theatrical setup and using negative space. Not only do we believe this is taking place in the trenches, the film even incorporates a harrowing action sequence that makes the events being portrayed even more immediate.

Journey’s End revolves around a group of British officers in the front lines in northern France, waiting for an imminent German attack. Worn down Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) can only cope with the stress by drinking large amounts of alcohol. Fresh-faced Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) fails to grasp the immediacy of their situation. Lieutenant Osborne (Paul Bettany) is the older even-tempered superior, trying to preserve a modicum of humanity on the battlefield.

A couple of smart moves by Dibb add to the overall experience. The built-in tension is enhanced by our knowledge that the soldiers are sitting ducks. The callousness of high command, unwilling to commit additional forces and give the battalion a fighting chance, is anger inducing. The performances are top notch, with Claflin as the MVP. Stanhope is a showy role, but the actor’s decision to keep the histrionics at bay makes him look like a ticking bomb.

Only towards the end does Journey’s End fall apart, if for no other reason than the promised payoff is not as intense as we have been led to expect. As for the film’s relevance, it’s unmistakably pacifist. But more importantly, it offers a cautionary warning against trusting authorities — particularly when they use patriotism to justify their actions.