Dalton Trumbo’s classic novel Johnny Got His Gun has been adapted from its literary form once more—this time as a feature film—to reintroduce the heralded text to new audiences. The story of a wounded soldier during World War I and his hallucinations about life and combat serve as a poignant reminder of our country’s current situation, but don’t do much to elevate it beyond that. The film’s simplistic style and low awareness in the marketplace all but guarantee a small turnout and a difficult struggle finding an audience at the box office.
Benjamin McKenzie made a career out of playing brooding and depressed in the teen drama The O.C. during its four-year run, and eventually tried his luck at movies. But with resume builders like JAG and 88 Minutes, it’s easy to see why the young actor decided to change the course of his career in a hurry. After all, you can’t be a heartthrob forever and eventually every actor wants to be taken seriously. So emerged what is hopefully the new and improved Mr. McKenzie. Now going by the shortened “Ben,” we first saw his real acting chops in 2005’s Junebug, a film that garnered Amy Adams an Oscar nomination but also served as a platform for Ben McKenzie 2.0.
Johnny Got His Gun has been filmed straight from the stage by director Rowan Joseph. There are minimal camera setups and a bare stage with only a handful of props. It’s a one-man show that McKenzie bravely takes on with mixed results. The character of Joe Bonham inhabits every fiber of Dalton Trumbo’s novel and the story of this amputated and hallucinogenic American soldier is a tricky one for McKenzie to pull off.
At the start of the film, we are introduced to Joe Bonham in an almost dreamlike state. He has lost all four limbs and a complete use of his senses, but the character we see on stage is the fully functional version of himself who now serves as our guide. We are taken through Bonham’s memories of love, loss and war, eventually returning to the hospital bed this amputated soldier must now call home. It’s an arduous task for any actor to take on such a complex and demanding role, and McKenzie succeeds for the most part. The nuances he brings to Joe Bonham on stage make for a quick 77-minute running time, especially considering that Johnny Got His Gun is a complete one-man show, with the exception of a few props. The impressive and deliberate performance serves as another reminder than Ben McKenzie 2.0 is here to stay.
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Matty Ferraro and Meredith Kendall
Director: Rowan Joseph
Screenwriter: Bradley Rand Smith
Producers: Rowan Joseph, Shane Partlow, Wesley Horton and Lauri LaBeau
Runtime: 77 min.
Release Date: September 26 NY, October 10 SF