×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun

An antiwar literary classic reaches the bigscreen (again) via stage translation in "Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun." That circuitous route benefits the interior monologue of a soldier robbed of speech, sight and limbs, struggling to maintain sanity in his hospital bed.

With:
With: Ben McKenzie.

An antiwar literary classic reaches the bigscreen (again) via stage translation in “Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.” That circuitous route benefits the interior monologue of a soldier robbed of speech, sight and limbs, struggling to maintain sanity in his hospital bed. Ably filmed by veteran stage producer-director Rowan Joseph, Bradley Rand Smith’s theatrical script provides a bravura thespian workout for Ben McKenzie. Critical support and the recent docu “Trumbo” might help attract niche attention to Truly Indie’s city-by-city, single-screen release before it begins its shelf life as a smallscreen broadcast/educational item.

The Oscar-winning, blacklisted author’s 1939 novel has been a classroom perennial, but attempts to film it (at one point, Luis Bunuel was slated to direct) were stymied until Trumbo took it upon himself to bankroll and direct a 1971 bigscreen version.

While it has its defenders, that feature –Trumbo’s first and last directorial effort — is in many respects a good illustration of the “unfilmable book equals unwatchable movie” principal, dramatizing the source material’s stream-of-consciousness with heavy-handed literalness. Smith’s solo stage version preemed Off Broadway in 1981, winning an Obie for thesp Jeff Daniels. Joseph embarked on this first feature upon discovering the sole archival video copy of that performance had been partially, accidentally erased.

On a stage bare but for a bench, oversized chair and occasional back projections, we first meet Joe Bonham (McKenzie) leaving small-town America for WWI service, waving goodbye to loved ones from the train. The war itself passes in a brief blur, ending when he’s “hit hard” and believes he’s experiencing “stone-cold death.”

But amid a subsequent confusion of childhood and romantic recollections, he gradually realizes his actual predicament: bandaged head to toe, his face horribly maimed, all his limbs amputated, unable to move or communicate.

Pleas to be woken from this nightmare, in which he can’t even be sure “whether I’m awake or asleep,” alternate with more reminiscences, dim perceptions of the hospital world around him and mental games played simply to stop himself from going insane. (It’s a thrilling accomplishment when he works out a way to tell how time is passing.) Finally, this 20-year-old, his life for all practical purposes over, discovers a means of making himself heard, tapping head against bedboard in Morse code. But his sole request — to be displayed as an example of war’s cost — is decreed “against regulations.” Trumbo’s pacifist message comes through loud and clear, though in both the text and visuals, pic doesn’t end on as strong a note one might like.

“The OC” star McKenzie, so good as Amy Adams’ peevish husband in “Junebug,” has just the right heartland look. His highly physical performance — illustrating the wandering energy of Joe’s thoughts, not his trapped body — nimbly runs this ordinary yet bright and likable character’s gamut of emotions.

Though billed as “live onstage, on film,” pic was staged for the camera rather than for a live audience. It’s never static, despite the stark design, thanks largely to ace contributions from lenser Andrew K. Sachs, editor Jay Cassidy and lighting designer Leigh Allen.

Popular on Variety

Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun

Production: A Truly Indie release of a Greenwood Hill Prods. Presentation, in association with Tres Hermanos Prods. Produced by Rowan Joseph, Shane Partlow, Wesley Horton, Lauri LaBeau. Executive producer, Robin A. Sateriale, John Meindl. Directed by Rowan Joseph. Screenplay, Bradley Rand Smith, adapted from the novel by Dalton Trumbo.

Crew: Camera (color, HD-to-35mm) Andrew K. Sachs; editor, Jay Cassidy; art director, Keith Mitchell; costume designer, Denitsa Bliznakova; sound (Dolby SR), Robert Arturo Ramirez; sound designer, Michael D. Mortilla; casting, Chadwick Struck. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Oct. 6, 2008. Running time: 77 MIN.

With: With: Ben McKenzie.

More Film

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Seeks to Throw Out Gender Pay Gap Lawsuit

    The Walt Disney Co. is seeking to throw out a lawsuit alleging that women employees are paid less than men, arguing that the suit is too sprawling and unwieldy to handle as a class action. Andrus Anderson LLP filed the suit in April, alleging that Disney’s hiring and pay practices have a discriminatory effect on [...]

  • Ford v Ferrari

    Christian Bale, Matt Damon to Campaign in Lead Actor Category for 'Ford v Ferrari'

    Christian Bale and Matt Damon will both campaign in the lead actor category for awards for their work in Fox’s upcoming “Ford v Ferrari,” Variety has learned. “Ford v Ferrari” follows an eccentric, determined team of American engineers and designers, led by automotive visionary Carroll Shelby (Damon) and his British driver, Ken Miles (Bale), who [...]

  • Tezuka's Barbara film

    Tokyo Film Festival: Makoto Tezuka Probes Past and Present in 'Barbara'

    The son of the late Osamu Tezuka, who is known as the “the god of manga” in Japan for his innovative and enduringly popular comics, Makoto Tezuka (also known as Macoto Tezka) long ago escaped his father’s looming shadow, carving out a career as a film and animation director. At the same time, he has [...]

  • Cuba Gooding Jr

    Cuba Gooding Jr. Sued for Allegedly Pinching Nightclub Server

    A Tao nightclub server who alleges that Cuba Gooding Jr., pinched her rear-end last year has sued the Oscar-winning actor for sexual battery. Natasha Ashworth had previously come forward to New York law enforcement, though her name had not been released publicly. Gooding was indicted last week on four misdemeanor counts, including two counts stemming [...]

  • Taika Waititi Natalie Portman SDCC 2019

    Natalie Portman Weighs in on 'Thor: Love and Thunder's' Possible Breast Cancer Storyline

    Natalie Portman doesn’t know if “Thor: Love and Thunder” will include a breast cancer storyline for her character Jane Foster, but she’s definitely intrigued by the possibility. “It’s just very rare that these kinds of big entertainment films look at more serious, real-life issues,” she told Variety at L.A. Dance Project’s 8th annual fundraising gala [...]

  • Luxbox Closes Sales on Venice Film

    Luxbox Closes Sales on Venice Film 'Sole' to U.S., France (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fiorella Moretti and Hedi Zardi’s Paris-based sales agency Luxbox has closed several territory deals on Carlos Sironi’s “Sole,” which screened in Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti section and Toronto Film Festival’s Discovery sidebar. The film just won the audience award at Pingyao Intl. Film Festival in China and a Special Jury Mention for the lead actors [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content