Project Description

Johnny Got His Gun (2008) is a feature film adaptation of the stage play adapted for the stage by Bradley Rand Smith from Dalton Trumbo’s original 1938 anti-war novel. This story follows a young American soldier, played by Ben McKenzie (The O.C., Southland, Gotham), hit by an artillery shell on the last day of the First World War. The film takes place in the mind of a quadruple amputee who has also lost his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Regaining consciousness, 20 year-old Joe Bonham slowly discovers that while his brain is healthy and able to reason, the rest of his body is irreparably shattered, leaving him forever trapped within the confines of his own imagination. He struggles valiantly to find some way to communicate with the outside world. Tapping his head in Morse code he breaks through and pleads with his caretakers to be put on display as a living example of the cost of war.


Variety: “A thrilling accomplishment… An antiwar literary classic reaches the big screen again via stage translation Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. Ably filmed by veteran stage producer-director Rowan Joseph, Bradley Rand Smith’s theatrical script provides a bravura thespian workout for Ben McKenzie. Though billed as ‘live onstage, on film’, pic was staged for the camera rather than for a live audience. It’s never static……”


The Hollywood Reporter: “Ben McKenzie gives a tour-de-force performance in this one-man show, a challenging adaptation of an anti-war classic…[Director Rowan] Joseph has cast it perfectly…McKenzie has the perfect boy-next-door looks as well as the physical intensity and ardent naturalism to hold your interest…Joseph’s camerawork is fluid and sensitive, commendably staying well out of the way of his actor…” [more]

Marshall Fine, Chairman of the New York Film Critics Circle: “The timing seems perfect for Rowan Joseph’s unique and powerful new version of Dalton Trumbo’s ‘Johnny Got His Gun.’ Trumbo himself directed a film version in 1971 that was much more literal and viscerally horrifying; Joseph’s version, while packing the same emotional power, is a more poetic, more imaginative version. Using only lighting, camera angles and Ben McKenzie’s full-bodied performance, Joseph blends horror and hopefulness and a muscular anti-war message.…” [more]

Austin American-Statesman: “Theatrical ‘Gun,’ with a cast of only one, unfolds on screen as a film of high caliber… More of the horror of the soldier’s situation is interspersed with flashbacks: memories of a mother in the kitchen, of a girlfriend left behind, of father-son fishing trips. Though these moments bring much-needed dramatic relief, there’s no mistaking that Johnny Got his Gun has a virulent message of pacifism couched in the grim realities of war’s grotesqueries…” [more]