By Michael Smith
This has been a very hard movie for to me to review. This was the first film I saw at Heartland this year and my review for it has gone through the most revisions. When I first saw That Trip We Took With Dad, I enjoyed it but had a few issues. As I have reflected on it more, though, I have found find my reasons for enjoying the movie have lessened. What originally made me want to see this film is my interest in post-World War II German history. I believe that there are many things that can be gleaned from it that can apply to how our governments continue to behave today. I also really enjoy the personal stories from this era as well, so this film’s premise had a lot of appeal for me.
The production quality of the film is really good, but this film ends up running on looks alone since the writing often isn’t strong. One of the writing problems in this film is that there is a multitude of conflicts, both external and internal. In real life, it is true that everyone has many conflicts going on, but That Trip We Took With Dad forgets that you can only convey so many things in a film before motivations become muddied, especially if there are three main characters like there are here.
One example of this happens during what I’ll call the second act, when the main character calls the embassy (I’m leaving this particularly vague for spoiler reasons.) It is unclear what causes him to want to take this action. Is it his desire to protect his little brother? Is it his stand against the injustice being perpetrated by the East German military? Does he want to escape with the West German woman he has met? Honestly, I am still not sure. This confuses our perception of the older brother.
Another issue is in the third act, during which the pacing of leaves much to be desired. It felt like I was on a treadmill with someone else controlling the speed and making me sprint to the next action, then slow down for the aftermath, then speed right back up. This causes more confusion in the characters’ motivations and the overall storytelling of the final act. Also, the ending feels like it never truly resolves. It is like when a piece of music ends without resolving the chord progression. It just makes you want that last note to complete everything. The film does resolve the younger brother’s story, but it never seems to resolve the older brother’s.
Overall, I feel like this movie tries to tell too much story in the time it has, which causes the third act to suffer. It has an interesting plot based on a true story, a series of events that led me to learn more about the post-World War II communist bloc countries and the conditions within them. If the writing had done a better job of adapting the true story to the screen and matched the great production in terms of quality, then That Trip We Took With Dad would have deserved a higher score.