Review by Sean Boelman
The war film is a unique genre in that even the most obscure stories of valor can make for a compelling watch thanks to an inherent feeling of patriotism. However, canny viewers will quickly see through the visage of The War Below, an adequately crafted but entirely standard drama.
The movie follows a group of civilian miners who are recruited by the British army to tunnel under the German front and place bombs in the hopes of turning around a stalemate. While one would normally think that the front lines are where the excitement is, there have been so many films shot from that angle that the repetitiveness becomes exhausting. It is somewhat refreshing to see a movie come from a different perspective like this.
As is the case with most films about war, there is some discussion of the ethics of warfare and whether or not the characters are doing the right thing. However, the focus here is more on their potential sacrifice of leaving their homefront positions for something on (or perhaps more accurately, beneath) the battlefield.
The audience will definitely sympathize with the main characters thanks to their heroic actions, but they aren’t given much in the way of distinctive personalities. Instead, the development of the group is mainly of them as a holistic unit rather than one made up of individual parts. This does cause some of the emotional beats to fall flat.
Much of the cast of the movie is made up of character actors who are more famous in Britain than they are in the States, or relative unknowns. That said, the script doesn’t give any of them much to do since it is all so straightforward, but the few big and flashy moments they do get are relatively unmemorable.
Something that makes this film stand out from a lot of other movies in the genre is a short runtime. Writers J.P. Watts and Thomas Woods recognized that this story, while unique, isn’t enough to sustain the usual two-hour (or more) length of most war films. They find what is powerful in the story, communicate it, and wrap things up.
Furthermore, the movie is also surprisingly well-made considering the fact that there were no A-list stars in it and presumably no epic budget with which to work. Of course, the film doesn’t have the flashy hooks that some of the more high-profile titles of late have had, but it’s well-crafted all-around.
The War Below isn’t anything spectacular, but for a modest war movie with no real audience draws, it’s a lot better than one would expect. Slap a few A-listers in the leading roles, and this would have gotten a lot more attention.
The War Below hits VOD on November 11.