Theatrical: 1917 (2019)

World War Fun.

1917 is a World War One film directed by Sam Mendes and it’s one of the last films I watched before the world went into heavy quarantine on the front end of 2020. It’s one of those films I would have reviewed at the time were I not treating How About Notflix as a place to only talk about shitty Netflix movies. It’s a fantastic film.

The film takes place on the western front in Northern France, where William Schofield (George Mackay) and Tom Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman) are given orders by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to bring an urgent message to the front line. It’s a race against time story where the two need to warn the advancing army of a trap, and if Blake doesn’t make it in time 1,600 men will be brutally killed including his brother.

Billed as a continuous shot movie, 1917 isn’t really a single shot film. Instead they use cunning tricks to make you think it was shot in one take, while actually breaking off at certain points. Like Birdman. It does give the movie a great feel when you shut off that portion of your brain and just accept that it’s a continuous shot.

The race against time takes the two soldiers across a war torn France through a series of vignettes and stages that look absolutely beautiful. When it comes to war as a plot device, you can’t get much better than World War 1. It was dark, dirty, and terrible. Every side suffered massive losses and the survivors were left traumatized, diseased, maimed, and broken. Nobody really won.

Unfortunately for 1917, Sam Mendes and crew were so fixated on their toy that they kind of abandoned other parts of the storytelling. The continuous camera shot is beautiful, but it makes the movie feel like a tech demo rather than a full movie. Like the old days of 3D films where most of the content was just the director seeing what they could throw at the screen. While the performances are fantastic, the whole plot is basically just going from point a to point b.

One thing the movie does well is showing off the horrors of war. You see it in Mackay and Chapman, these guys feel like they’re basically children. And as they go through on their mission and meet other soldiers it really kicks in how young the men who were sent to die in the trenches were. This isn’t a world of ass-kicking heroics and one-liners, but one of young men being sent to their deaths for something they don’t really understand.

If you really want to see this movie because you saw Benedict Cumberbatch in the trailer, he’s only in the film for a few minutes toward the end. It’s a film with a thin concept that rides hard on the gimmick, but damn is it a gripping movie that will keep your attention for the full two hours.

Rating: A-

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