To End All Wars (July 18/04)
It's been a while since we've seen a movie about a prisoner-of-war camp, though this subset of the war flick seems to have been around since the birth of cinema. It's a genre that lends itself to clichés - and To End All Wars certainly contains its share of such moments - but director David L. Cunningham's strong visual style combined with several impressive performances makes it easy to overlook the film's flaws.
Set during the Second World War, the movie opens with a troop of Allied soldiers captured by the Japanese. We meet several of them - including Lieutenant Campbell (Robert Carlyle), Captain Gordon (Ciarán McMenamin), and an American named Reardon (Kiefer Sutherland) - and watch as they're mistreated by their captors almost immediately. It's not long before they're put to work on a railroad, a project organized by the Japanese soldiers to impress their Emperor.
To End All Wars is based on the book by Ernest Gordon, the real-life soldier who inspired McMenamin's character. Because of Gordon's obvious closeness to the event, it's not much of a surprise that several sequences in the film are dripping with melodrama. The way that the movie establishes the characters - particularly the Japanese soldiers, who are pure evil - is a perfect example of this, and Brian Godawa's screenplay doesn't exactly do the film any favors (there's actually a scene in which the men sit around and talk about what they're going to do when they get home!)
Yet such problems are quickly forgotten once the movie hits its stride, as it abandons the more hackneyed elements in order to focus on the inherently intriguing aspects of the story. Anchored by the impressive performances, the film finally becomes just as compelling as Cunningham clearly intended. Relative newcomer McMenamin more than holds his own opposite veterans Carlyle and Sutherland - both of whom are exceptional in their respective roles.
To End All Wars is far from perfect, but there's no denying that the story it's telling is a fascinating one.