Based on a 1928 play of the same title by R.C. Sheriff, Journey’s End is this year’s compulsory “War is Hell” film. A refreshingly classical film with a clear affection for the source material and the British army, this could easily become a new stalwart on Memorial Day programming.
Having never read the play (or seen the previous screen adaptations, of which there are several) this still feels very faithful and theatrical by limiting most of the film to a single location (officers quarters beneath the trenches) and letting the performances take centre stage with the action of the war as a backdrop. By sticking to its chamber play roots, Journey’s End becomes more of a character study than a war film, with solid performances breathing life into familiar archetypes.
We’re introduced to the men via Raleigh (Asa Butterfield). As the newest to join their ranks, Butterfield is every bit the part of the young, wide-eyed and optimistic officer fresh from the academy. Raleigh requests to join the command of Stanhope (Sam Clafin), whom he went to school with and has a great admiration for, but finds the man changed by the hardships of war, barely keeping himself together with a bottle. Familiar faces like Paul Bettany, Stephen Graham, and Toby Jones provide a comforting presence to both Raleigh and the audience.
Director Saul Dibb is still able to make the dialogue-heavy drama feel cinematic with the help of Ben Wheatley’s longtime cinematographer Laurie Rose, who captures everything in a kind of drab beauty. In Journey’s End, filmmakers have created another fitting tribute to a generation of veterans whose fight really didn’t end that long ago. Contrary to what Mel Gibson may believe, this is actually possible to do without the use of excessive violence.