Having already been a novel, radio play, movie (famously excerpted by Metallica for the “One” video), and one-man stage show, it’s hard to know what’s gained by yet another take on Johnny Got His Gun. Nonetheless, here’s a film version of the stage version, with The O.C. vet Benjamin McKenzie’s entirely creditable turn as Joe Bonham, lifeless WWI corpse. Stripped of his arms, legs, and facial features, Joe rants and raves his way into an understanding of where he now belongs in the world. First there are the nightmares, then the flashbacks to better times, and finally, a furious, rejected desire to be put on display to dissuade all further war. Leigh Allen’s lighting design is tops, and director Rowan Joseph does the most he can behind the camera, seizing the opportunity for an overhead shot whenever possible to open things up. But filmed theater is an inherently dubious genre, and Johnny Got His Gun is little more than a good performance of dated material. Originally published as part of an effort to keep the U.S. out of World War II, Trumbo’s pacifist rant now seems pleasantly corny in its memories of small-town America and absolutely irrelevant to the very real issues of present-day warfare.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 22, 2008