April 1917, the Western Front. Two British soldiers are sent to deliver an urgent message to an isolated regiment. If the message is not received in time the regiment will walk into a trap and be massacred. To get to the regiment they will need to cross through enemy territory. Time is of the essence and the journey will be fraught with danger.
Oh did I look forward to this film. Was supposed to be great, even an Oscar’s contender … for what it’s worth these days. No but really, two actual Oscar-winners, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins, is a winning team in all aspects.
And it’s gotta be said, the visuals were stunning, realistic and pulled me right into the action, gripped me and didn’t ever let me go again. Camera and characters seems to be in constant motion and keep you busy as well. They reached that psychological effect by making the whole movie appear as “one shot”. Of course only in appearance. As an attentive viewer you’ll notice where they used extras conveniently passing the screen and scenes shot in the dark, and CGI trees for the inevitable edits. Still, the effect works great. I also liked the kinda hyper realistic, unsweetened, bland, colour scale and gloomy lighting Deakins added to 1917’s cinematography.
I’ve heard some people say you gotta watch 1917 in the theatre to experience its full effect. Sorry but I call bullshit on that. An enhanced viewing experience doesn’t make a movie any better. A great movie works by itself and doesn’t need artificial gimmicks to show off its full might! So I’ve decided against the cinematic experience and went the less stressful home screening route.
So, just in case any of you wonder why I’m only writing about my impression, and why hubby didn’t join me this time, he was grumpy about the 1917 project from the first moment on he heard about it and flatout refused to watch it with me. Not even in our cuddly hidey hole in my study. Mumbling something about politicalblaahblaaah n stuff.
Anyway, be that as it may, this is my review and my opinion isn’t shared by anyone and just mine alone.
Okay, let’s get into the story by stating there ain’t much of a story being told in 1917. The background is halfways correct, as there was indeed a battle going on at that time in that area, and the Germans did indeed orchestrate a tactical fallback into better fortified positions a couple miles back. Very clever, so they chose the layout of the battlefield.
But that’s where the true history ends. Lance Corporals Blake’s and Schofield’s journey behind enemy lines was as unrealistic as unneccesary. You don’t start “the big push” with so little recon and without some days of opening barrage before the actual attack. And so the whole premise of the movie fell apart right in the first 5 minutes.
Did I mention already how effective Deakin’s cinematography worked on me? It’s no big WOAH! or like a super exciting roller-coaster ride, but much more subtle. Even cinematographically untrained audiences will feel the pull forwards. Very well done, boys!
So I wasn’t bored, not even for a second, even if there was not much happening in the beginning. But you know there’s danger lurking behind every corner in the trenches and can’t take your eyes off the screen at any time. That Mendes chose two nobodies – at least for me – to play the main roles was a clever move. Apart from them both having the typical early 20th century faces, they did their jobs very well and believable.
Can’t say the same about the more famous British acting giants who apeared in some small roles here and there. Let’s see:
Colin Firth as General Errinmore had 2 or 3 minutes screentime. Essential but still wasted talent and money. Same can be said about Andrew Scott as Lt. Leslie, who has very limited screentime as well, which he uses mercilessly overacting the world weary, sarcastic officer. What was quirky cartoonish fun when you played Moriarty and tried to trick Sherlock Holmes, is completely in the wrong place here, Andy. This wasn’t Apocalypse Now and no need to spice things up. This is a movie with a very tragic sujet, meant for adults. It has no place for off-beat characters.
I almost didn’t recognize Mark Strong in his role as some inconsequential officer. At least he didn’t try to eat up the screen as it’s the fashion with all those industry greats. Benedict Cumberbatch was also filling his 2 minutes of screentime without the usual “Look at me I’m a fukn Hollywood Star!” attitude. Ok. And I guess if I knew the British film industry a bit better I’d recognize a lot more of interesting actors, filling out the cast. But in a movie that was for 99% showing the journey of two soldiers, and later only one, pretty much all the other actors appeared only periodically, each in one short scene, and were wasted effort.
So what’s there to say about 1917? Want a CONCLUSION?
1917 was a great movie!
But for me it wasn’t the grand spectacle we’ve been promised. Maybe it was the relentless propaganda around the film that spoiled it already for me, maybe it was indeed too visible that two very talented film-makers tried too hard to come up with the greatest movie of all times.
For that, gentlemen, for such an approach, was 1917 a bit too sober, too analytical, too academic, to calculated. A movie about WW1 must have at least one big sweeping battle scene in it. Thousands of extras getting stuck in the mud, grenades exploding all around. In a really great movie I expect, no, I demand pathos! And cheese! And in that regard the decidedly small scale 1917 fell short. It puts too much emphasis on the two individual soldiers … in a war that drove any individuality out of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and reduced them to swamp rats in human form.
Earlier attempts, like All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and All Quiet on the Western Front (1979) did it better with much less fanfare and production hullabaloo. Heck, even Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957) did a better job showing us the horrors of trench warfare in the very limited time we’re actually spending on the battleground. Because the All Quiet movies had a great literary novel as blueprint, and stuck to it with their screenplays while Paths at least had an interesting screenplay. But in the script department, that is where 1917 really suffered most and didn’t have much too offer.
So, as an individual kinda road movie in a rather static war 1917 works great, as a war movie less so. And where it works is the show-offish camera work by Roger Deakins while the rest stays rather pale.
Let’s see what some of the others, lesser, film critics think about 1917 🙂
“Gargantuan technical achievement.”
“The first and most imporant part that stood out is the cinematography.”
“The film plays out as a single continous experience.”
“A remarkable technical achievement.”
“When they’re resting you’re the eyes!”
Some technical stuff in this video.