Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield, Sam Claflin, Toby Jones, Tom Sturridge, Stephen Graham, Robert Glenister, Miles Jupp, Rupert Wickham
Written by: Simon Reade, based on a play by R.C. Sherriff, Vernon Bartlett
Directed by: Saul Dibb
MPAA Rating: R for some language and war images
Running Time: 107
Date: 03/16/2018

Journey's End (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Trench Warmers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Based on 90 year-old source material, this drama of the first World War is quietly moving as it conveys the horrors of war without heaviness, focusing on humanity, and relying little on battle scenes.

In Journey's End, it's the first World War, and fresh-faced young Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) has requested to be stationed with his old school head-boy, Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin). Unfortunately, this means that he is to be deployed for a rotation of six days on the front lines, in the trenches just opposite a nest of German troops. Stanhope drinks heavily, quickly consuming the short supply of whisky, but his stature in Raleigh's eyes fails to diminish.

Rumors of an imminent attack are coming, and the men, led by the pipe-smoking Lt. Osborne (Paul Bettany), wait stoically. Other men include the dark-humored cook Mason (Toby Jones), and the streetwise teddy bear Trotter (Stephen Graham), who loves to eat. Then, the commanding officers order a suicide mission to capture a German, and even if the men survive, a major attack may soon be on the way.

Journey's End comes from a play by R.C. Sherriff, which was first performed onstage with Laurence Olivier in 1928 and was then adapted into a movie in 1930, the directorial debut of James Whale (Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, etc.). It's tried-and-true stuff, and it still works. Director Saul Dibb (The Duchess) stages it with plenty of mud and gloom, and even wobbly hand-held cameras, and yet it has enough patience and care that it works beautifully.

Potent little moments, like attempting to clear mud from a whistle, punctuate the story. Especially excellent is the cast, starting with Bettany, whose avuncular presence (the men call him "uncle") is downright calming; right before the mission, he coaxes Raleigh to think about other things (hot cocoa and a Lewis Carroll poem).

Butterfield is appealingly naïve, and Jones makes a grimly funny cook, providing a commentary on the dishes he manages to put together. Even Claflin — usually cast more for his looks than his presence — is fine here. Together, these characters manage to discuss things more immediate and personal than war, and, by extension, tell everything there is to say.

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