1917 (dir. Mendes)

Image: George MacKay in 1917 © Photograph by Francois Duhamel. Property of Universal Pictures [Source: IMDB]


Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldiers’ brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.

Director: Sam Mendes. Starring: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Daniel Mays, Colin Firth [15]

There is some satisfaction to be had from a film being centred in the First World War. It seems to be a period covered few and far between. But as much as this is taking place during that war it could just as easily be generic war. There is not much history or frankly story to be had about the war itself. That may be a negative for some but for Mendes the focus here is not the war at large…but what war does to individuals. The price they pay and more importantly the journeys they go on. In this case, Mendes working with legendary Roger Deakins – almost literally want your boots on the ground with the characters going on a Hobbit-esque journey into Mordor.

This boots on the ground with the characters is achieved remarkably through every shot being as long as technically possible with hidden edits (a la Hitchcock’s Rope) to make it all seem as though it is one continuous shot from start to finish. It’s extraordinary as to just how astonishingly perfect not only is the chosen direction but to which the quality of its execution. Not only does the effect give you the audience an added experience of your own. I dare to conjure up Scorsese’s inflamorty remarks about Marvel movies but to me, this did feel somewhat like a theme park ride but I do mean to compliment with that remark. An experience to have, most importantly – at the cinema. The music and cinematography alone make it worth that to really capture a sense of war but not in its bloodshed. But in its destruction of ‘beauty’, of innocence and of people.

Most annoyingly, however, is that theme park aspect was felt in the negative for me also. I did not feel swept up in the characters or in their unbuyable bond. The performance from Chapman was lacking believability but thankfully Mackay’s more than made up for it. More importantly, the script and plot I felt were meandering and mostly lifeless, where the cinematography and narrative gave us deeper thoughts about war – the script and narrative was more interested in trivial aspects. It made for more than one moment of dug in pacing when it ground to a hault. Thankfully though the film as a whole was moved along briskly so that these moments didn’t feel too much of a burden to bare. However, that same brisk pace also led to a half-filled balloon being let loose at the climax for a mostly unsatisfying resolve.

This was not due to the character lacking an emotional climax or the film lacking an action-packed bow out. It was due to the narrative not pondering on the issue of war or even the journey of the plot. Instead, it all seems fast and surface level. Despite that, it is a magnificent experience to behold for its technical achievement and its touching story, albeit a gentle touch.

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