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 asks 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 frontline, 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.
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.
Another eye-opener for the young soldier is the condition of his highly praised old friend. When Raleigh and Captain Stanhope’s finally cross paths the greeting is far from warm. The look on the Captain’s face tells us everything we need to know, about the impact of war.
Captain Stanhope’s drinking problem and frequent outburst of anger is well-known among the men. There are some extremely powerful scenes in which he lashes out at others for the smallest of reasons. It’s clear that the process of waiting for the attack has done a number on Captain Stanhope’s mind. 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 who helps Raleigh to settle into the group.
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 in your mind.