The pitch is a simple one, “Paul Gross puts the Passion in Passchendaele!”

Rather than drawing from cinematic masterpieces like Paths of Glory, Gross instead turns to Pearl Harbour for his tale of love, loss and war. The Great War is little more than a backdrop for a silly story. Cliches rain like artillery, as we meet a soldier with “shell shock”, a nurse who pricks herself with morphine to get by, and her brother, an asthmatic teen who wishes nonetheless to become a hero and fight for his country. Even the gruff old senior officer, token ethnic friend and yokel neighbors make an appearance (the fact that the xenophobic, hick Calgarian family is named “Harper” should not, I’d suggest, be written off as coincidence).

The film begins and ends with bombs and blood, but the middle 90 minutes is little more than romance novel fluff. Romantic horse rides show the rugged beauty of Alberta, as streams burble in sharp canyons and the two leads look off into the distance with a sense of yearning. The film takes a turn to the absolute ridiculous when the actual battle is fought, as all the characters (even the gruff soldier!) find their way to the same battle at the same time. The leads even find time to copulate to the backdrop of canon fire, with flares floating down, swimming sperm-like in the night sky while the jarring sound of Gross’ sex-foley fights the gun fire and explosions of the surround sound mix.

What’s most unfortunate is that the film makes the scope of this battle so much smaller, the heroism so much more diminished. The insanely trite, predictable conclusion is muddied by what I can only describe as the Via Delarosa part of the film, literally turning the film into some sort of macabre passion play. Finally, the klunky end titles indicate the sacrifice at Passchendaele ended up being (geographically, at least) for naught, with the land overtaken months later. In other words, it makes the whole endeavor feel both implausible and trivial.

Softening the impact of the historical battle while injecting movie-of-the-week romance, Gross has wasted a perfectly good war film by creating a perfectly awful adventure romance, one made more hateful by the fact that it sullies the memory of a vital time in our history nearly as badly as the historical abortion that was Bruckheimer’s Pearl Harbour.

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