Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun

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Dalton Trumbo's classic 1939 anti-war novel "Johnny Got His Gun" didn't translate very effectively to the screen in the 1971 film version directed by the author himself, and it works even less well in this cinematic rendition of a one-man stage adaptation originally performed in 1982. Starring Ben McKenzie ("Juno," "The O.C."), "Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun" reveals itself to be far too stagebound to function effectively onscreen.

Directed by Rowan Joseph, the film is essentially a filmed version of the theatrical show, staged on a set featuring little more than a chair and a bench. Despite the director's use of various lighting and sound effects and occasional imaginative stylistic flourishes with the camera, it is essentially canned theater.

This approach has sometimes worked in the past--such as James Whitmore's Oscar nominated solo turn in "Give 'Em Hell, Harry"-but it requires compelling material and a performer strong enough to put it over. Here, McKenzie-playing Joe, the young World War I soldier whose horrific injuries have stripped him of all his limbs and sensory abilities-strives mightily but simply cannot overcome the artificiality of the conceit.

The monologue, alternating between the character's memories of his happy past and his fierce expressions of anguish over his current condition, does have the intended impact at times, and its current relevance is undeniable. But it's hard not to wish that the novel had instead been newly adapted into a real film by a director with the requisite daring and imagination.

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