Main cast: Jamie Bell (Charlie Shakespeare), Rúaidhrí Conroy (Pvt Chevasse), Laurence Fox (Captain Jennings), Dean Lennox Kelly (Pvt McNess), Torben Liebrecht (Friedrich), Kris Marshall (Pvt Starinski), Hans Matheson (Pvt Hawkstone), James McAvoy (McNess), Hugh O’Conor (Bradford), Matthew Rhys (Doc Fairweather), Andy Serkis (Pvt Quinn), and Hugo Speer (Sergeant David Tate)
Director: Michael J Bassett
What a dirty movie. Set in a trench where it is always raining, mud cakes our main actors thickly and rats make up the largest cast of extras, as a hapless paralyzed soldier will find out late in this movie, much to his horror.
It will take at least two watchings to appreciate Michael J Bassett’s debut film Deathwatch better. Not because it is complicated, but because the twist at the end is such that the movie becomes more bearable once I’ve realized what the twist is. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this one is Billy Elliot’s Saving Private Ryan – it’s not that simple. Or in any way original, but hey, who’s quibbling?
It’s World War 1, and our British platoon enters the hell that is war. Then the Germans let loose poisonous gas, and when these soldiers come to, it seems everyone else is either dead or gone. Where are they? They stumble around and manage to find a trench defended by only a few German troops. They tie up the German soldiers after beating them stupid and then try to radio for help. Only to learn, of course, that there is something hostile and supernatural lurking in the trench when night falls. Ooh.
Our hero is a 16-year old boy who lied about his age to join the Army. I bet the army isn’t so cool now eh, Shakespeare? Jamie Bell plays a decent role, I guess – he is sixteen after all, and if Billy Elliot sometimes surfaces instead of Charlie Shakespeare, nothing a few method acting classes can’t cure, eh, boyo? The other members of his troop are the usual stereotypes, but Bassett really succeeds by the end of the movie in making me cheer for everybody’s death. Seriously, these soldiers are horrifying in their bigotry, stupidity, or in the case of that fool Sergeant Tate, too stupid to the point that he insists on following an obviously insane captain’s orders – setting in motion the total annihilation of his troops. If Bassett wants to make a statement that only psychopaths and fools can be of any use in times of war, he succeeded. Even Shakespeare is a moron.
But the twist at the end makes the deaths of the stupid idiots in this movie most satisfying. It tells me that Bassett is on my side. But I can’t help but to wonder that if there are better ways to deliver a message of peace than this messy, somewhat choppy movie. Some members of the audience may even be disturbed that a German soldier plays what is closest to a guardian angel in this movie.
Still, not a bad horror movie. There are better ones out there, but there are worse as well.