Passchendaele Review

Movie ReviewPasschendaele: 4 out of 10.

When I wrote about the Passchendaele trailer back in March of 2008, I mentioned how much I was looking forward to seeing the film. The most expensive Canadian film project of all time about the 10th Battalion, CEF in the First World War at the Battle of Passchendaele was precisely the kind of film I could get behind. I so wanted it to be good.

There's better acting and more integrity in this one minute Part of Our Heritage commercial. Unfortunately, I'm not kidding.

Let me preface the rest of this review by saying I take absolutely no joy in trashing this pic. I honestly have never wanted to like a movie more. I'm fervently proud of this country and our efforts in the World Wars, and I've been looking for more Canadian films about WWI. In this case, with this budget and subject matter, even okay isn't good enough, and Passchendaele wasn't okay. It was embarrassing.

Most of the movie takes place in Alberta and not the battlefield. There it's plot convenience after plot convenience, and laughably bad acting. Most of that bad acting comes from Train 48's Joe Dinicol. Hey Paul! When you're putting together the most expensive Canadian movie ever made, let's not give such a key role to a guy from Train 48. See how well Gil Bellows did in his small role? That's the kind of acting we needed out of David Mann.

Then there's the silly little things, like David Mann's sister being kicked out of nursing because her father fought for the Germans while David is allowed to actually fight for Canada in the war. And what's with that silliness with Michael Dunne getting Sarah Mann through her morphine addiction in one rough night? And did that mean British recruitment officer really have to follow Dunne all the way to Belgium? And what was with all that talk about horses and rivers? Such melodrama!

**Spoiler Alert** And then there's my least favourite scene in this movie. It just so happens to be the climatic scene where Paul Gross' character brings back David Mann from the German trenches on a crucifix. Don't ask me why Mann ran into the German trenches in the first place, I'm still trying to piece that together, or why he ended up on a crucifix, just trust me that he did. This was Gross' movie, and he wrote it to ensure he could strike one helluva Jesus Christ Pose for the grand finale. It was the key scene and it was sickening. Is that seriously the best we can do?

There was an opportunity here to do something special to honour our war heroes. Instead, Paul Gross made a boring, moronic, poorly acted piece of melodramatic bullshit.

We deserve so much better than this.


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Comments (17 - click here to join in!)


I've never seen it... but as an easily influenced person this is easily one of my least favorite films of all time!!!!!

Thanks for saving me 2+ hours.

September 6, 2009 @ 11:20 PM


I don't think it's that bad. It's more of a love story rather than a war film in itself. If you didn't like this, imagine if it were American made?
I still liked it and have recommended people to watch it. I would give it a 7/10.

September 6, 2009 @ 11:31 PM


I absolutely have to disagree with your assessment of the film. I saw the film twice, once at TIFF and the night it opened in wide release. Both times I was amazed at the attention to detail and the amazing gift it gave, showing that not all war stories happen on the battlefield.

Watch the movie again, perhaps your extremely negative opinion of the movie will change.

September 6, 2009 @ 11:49 PM

The Voice

I was hoping it would be good, but I think Mike was TOO kind in his review.

Mike left out the poor direction, the extremely slow paced editing, the horrid lighting and the bad camera work. But it's hard to notice that with so much else wrong.

Canada deserves a better film, for sure.

September 7, 2009 @ 12:29 AM


I shut the movie off. Horrible.

September 7, 2009 @ 12:41 AM


The reviewer in The Guardian here in London seemed to think it wasn't very good either (2/5)

September 7, 2009 @ 4:03 AM


I have to agree with Mike. I really wanted to like this film too.....but it just fails miserably. In my opinion, Paul Gross is over-rated anyway. I almost walked out of the theatre. The friend I was with, did walk out. Too bad.

September 7, 2009 @ 6:46 AM

Toronto Mike


You wrote, "If you didn't like this, imagine if it were American made?"

I'm glad you brought that up. There are a couple of moments in Passchendaele during the battle scenes where all goes quiet and we hear through the hero's ears as all noise disappears. That stunt is ripped straight out of Saving Private Ryan, and when you start thinking about Saving Private Ryan during Passchendaele, Passchendaele gets even worse.

Saving Private Ryan is a big budget American film by Steven Spielberg and it's so much better than Passchendaele I don't think words do it justice.

September 7, 2009 @ 8:53 AM

jason |

hahahaha gotta love cancon themes

(actually you don't)

September 7, 2009 @ 11:30 AM


I also wanted to like this movie. But alas, it was awful.

Why cant this country produce a watchable motion picture - or a TV show for that matter? Even when we throw millions at a project like this one, it doesn't work. Of course, the arts folks will say they need more funding (from taxpayers' pockets) but that is never the solution. Some of the best films that come out of the US, or even Australia are smaller budget films. Its about the writing, the directing, and of course the acting that makes a film great.

I have no idea what the solution is - if I did I would make a terrific movie myself. In the meantime, I'll just stay away from anything that is made by a Cdn filmmaker. And yes I acknowledge there are a precious few exceptions but when 99.99% of the movies suck there's obviously a problem.

September 8, 2009 @ 9:10 AM


Roshan, don't be silly. There are many great American films about war and it's effects. SPR, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, Platoon, several from Sam Fuller, and some going back to the era of The Best Years of Our Lives and All Quiet on the Western Front. That's only a sample.

I once read an interview with Gross, where he described trying to get financing for his film. He showed the money men scenes from Saving Private Ryan and did not correct their assumption that this was footage he had already shot.

September 8, 2009 @ 10:55 AM


its a matter of scale...this was a big budget film helmed by a Canadian star. There are lots of big budget films made in America that go on to flop as well...Passchendaele resonates as it was big budget film about Canada and there are only a few films & filmmakers that get this opportunity. However there are still quite a few small budget, excellent canadian films that never get the promotion they deserve...

September 8, 2009 @ 1:12 PM


I loved it! I made a special trip from the US to Vancouver specifically to see it. It's a drama about people, not a history class filmstrip. I thought the acting by Paul Gross and Caroline Dhavernas was subtle and layered and wonderful. And Joe Dinicol was perfect as the annoying kid brother who gets everyone else into trouble...because guess what, that's the kind of thing teenagers do. They're annoying specifically because they don't know what we do know: that going off to war is not glamorous. Why did he run into the enemy trench? I don't know, but that kind of thing did happen in World War I. People were stunned, horrified and terrified by the combat and they did stupid things. How did he end up on the cross? An artillery round blew him up there along with the duckboards and barbed wire. And Paul Gross wasn't striking a Jesus Christ pose - if anything David Mann was the Christ figure symbolizing an entire generation (on both sides) sacrificed for what? - for a few yards of muddy ground. I found the scene that you objected to so much to be incredibly moving. And by the way, don't worry, I don't think Paul Gross will be at your site in the next 24 hours or the next 24 years.

September 10, 2009 @ 8:45 PM

Toronto Mike

@YYZ wrote "And by the
way, don't worry, I don't think Paul Gross will be at your site in the next 24 hours or the next 24 years."

Wanna bet?

September 10, 2009 @ 8:50 PM


That heritage video was incredibly inaccurate. Why would John McCrae read out his poem while writing it, it was that easy to come up with? And second he threw it out and a nurse found it. He did not give it to another general or whatever and then says that clever line "I don't know" when asked what his poem was.
So I don't why you picked that video either, you could have picked a accurate historic Canadian short film so that you would at least be told something factual. Which tells me that your tastes are poor and what you have to say possibly shouldn't be taken too seriously. There's always something you can find silly, but just remember that you wasted your time writing this, complaining when you could just give a rave review about a movie you did love, but nah you wanna tell it like it is, point out to people that: "Oh hey if you didn't see this movie, then keep it that way, 'cause there was horrible acting, just so horrible, emphasis on the horrible part." How about agreeing that the start was good, the information and fight seen were great, at the beginning of the film only maybe. The constant flashbacks of his fighting in the battlefield and the romance and his corny death and all that I could do without, especially her brother, his character was so unlikeable and I wanted to punch him in the face countless times during the movie. Screw nationalism it's just a movie, that's all. We all should learn this in Highschool, so I think that's good enough, not a film. Why do filmmakers constantly spill big cash for history films occurring up to 100 years ago? Are they not creative enough to come up with more original ideas? Like this quote “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present.” Don't get too caught on the past. Get over the unrealistic parts every movie has them, you won't be without it. Don't blame the acting, blame the writing because maybe if it was a better script he could lure in more talented actors. And they were good, seriously. You've got the talk but you'd probably frig up the walk if you were in Paul Gross's shoes. Meh, you probably don't care about my opinions anyways. Ditto.

January 5, 2010 @ 11:12 PM


Wow...clearly Mike (and many others commenters here) didn't see the same movie I did. I saw a tragic love story set in WWI...and I was crying at the end.

April 30, 2010 @ 7:28 PM


For anyone under the age of 16 years Passchendale fulfils all the expectations of a Mills and Boon.

For me an apt title would be Passionless Passchendale. I couldn't drum up one ounce of sympathy for Paul Gross's character who reminded me of a cross between Arnie Schwarzenegger and a high school baseball coach whose only experience of war is playing with tin soldiers in the nursery.

My sympathies go to the nurse forced against her better acting talent to pass herself off as a love struck Juliet who follows her lobotomic Romeo back to France.

The British army officer ranted his way through the film like a deranged bumble bee darting incoherently from one sentence to the next along with the military costume makers who must have been high on speed as they puckered up the seams of the jackets.

Leave the war epics to the Russians.

June 6, 2010 @ 7:18 AM

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