Originally written for Cinemaaxis.com
Trench warfare has rarely been depicted in such a rough, emotional and visceral way. World War II seems to be the popular choice for war films, that or the Middle East, so Journey’s End is a refreshing experience that is hard to forget. Not wasting any time, we meet young leftenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), who is keen to see some action having just arrived in France. Being the nephew of the general for this operation, he is permitted to be transferred to a company where an old school friend, Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), has been fighting for years.
Raleigh eventually makes it to the front-line, where the stalemate between trenches has lasted for a year. Once with his new company, we meet a variety of soldiers who are all dealing differently with their situation: smoking, drinking, joking about as if at the pub. Reaching for any positive in such a negative environment. What Raleigh doesn’t realise is that the company has captured a German and know when the enemy is planning to blitz them: Thursday, five days from his arrival. His naivety though gradually fades as he realises the gravity of his and his company’s situation.
Another eye-opener for the young soldier is the condition of his highly praised old friend. When Raleigh and Captain Stanhope finally cross paths the greeting is far from warm. The look on the Captain’s face tells us everything we need to know. Before leaving for battle, he told Raleigh to find him if he ever joined the forces. Raleigh has found him in an extremely bad way, in the middle of an impossible situation that is only five short days away.
Captain Stanhope’s drinking problem and frequent outbursts of anger is well-known among the other men. There are some extremely powerful scenes in which he lashes out at others for the smallest of reasons, and then drunkenly realises what he has said. It’s clear that the process of waiting for the attack has eroded Stanhope’s sanity. The only thing keeping him somewhat sane is Officer Osborne (Paul Bettany), or ‘uncle’ as known by the rest of the company, a friendly senior officer.
Much like the stalemate between the two armies, there is no action for the first half of the film and not a lot after that either. What we see instead is how these soldiers were forced to live in the trenches. At one point the film notes that bodies of dead soldiers were used to fortify the trenches when nothing else was available. While there are a few moments of humour revolving around the food they eat, this is a dark look into the horrors of the trench warfare of WWI. Tackling the psychological effects of World War I in a powerful and raw way, Journey’s End is a fantastic film that will linger.
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