Saturday, May 2, 2020

Movie Reviews: 1917

directed by Sam Mendes
This was a slick glossy tale which in part was inspired by the experiences of the director's grandfather during WW1.

The most noticeable thing about this film was the cinematography and photography which appear to all have been taken in one or two continuous shots. This film won various awards at the Oscars, Golden Globes and British Film Awards.

Although this is a war film it's far closer in spirit and style to Dunkirk than to Saving Private Ryan. Depicted combat is very rare though the effects of the pointless violence are constantly around for all to see. There are long periods of silence or where only a few people are talking. As much of the film's events take place in no-man's land, this dampened sound makes sense though I have to say it felt unrealistic a few times. 

In part because of the sense of unreality I couldn't really empathize with the story's characters as easily as I might otherwise have. The characters and plot aren't all that important here. Names, background stories, motivations? Nah. You don't need to really concern yourself with any of those details. 

This is the director's film all the way from the amazing sight of lines of men jumping out of the trenches and running over the green fields through the beautiful, quiet, and yet ghastly riverbanks. The colors are lush and intriguing. Close to the end of WW1, the German and British armies are locked in a grindfest in northern France. 

One side undertakes a virtually suicidal attack that is supposed to lead to a breakthrough. 

It is usually stopped by superior application of defensive firepower: artillery, machine guns, and mines backed up by rifles, mortars and barbed wire. 

Apparently feeling compelled to return the favor, a few months later the former defenders scrounge up enough men to go on the attack at a different sector on the front and meet with the same catastrophic failure they just inflicted on the other side. The generals go back to their textbooks and write each other letters bemoaning the lack of animal spirit among their troops.

Having seen the Germans in what looks like full retreat the British General Command thinks that if they can just concentrate their attack at the point of the German withdrawal that THIS time they can get the Jerries on the run and end the war. Push!

Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) and Corporal Blake (Dean Charles Chapman) are two British Army soldiers. The cynical Schofield has seen tons more action than Blake and has/had the medals to prove it. Blake still has a sense of wonder and optimism about life and even the war. Schofield is primarily worried about making it home alive in one piece and getting something to eat. The last is something the fleshly Blake also thinks important.

The men are picked, well Blake is picked and brings along Schofield, for a super important mission. It turns out that the British aerial reconnaissance has discovered that the seeming German retreat is really just a strategic withdrawal to a secondary defense line. 

If the forward elements of the British Army attack, as they have been previously ordered to do, they will all be slaughtered like cattle. The Germans have thoughtfully cut all the telephone lines in the general vicinity so the only way the Brits can get the word thru to their boys is to send Blake and Schofield on a mad dash thru no man's land (and possible enemy lines) before the attack starts. 

They'd better hurry. The brass deliberately picked Blake for this mission because his big brother is one of the men who would be leading the attack. That should give Blake some incentive to move his a$$.

This grabbed the viewer visually and was quite stylish. It showed the class elements and conflicts among the soldiers. But to a viewer more familiar with American war movies directed by people like Spielberg and Gibson, this film's expressiveness was muted. It's okay if you're looking for something different.

Just be aware that this is NOT a rah-rah "Those SOB's got Rocky!!! Come on boys!!" type of film. Not at all. I wouldn't say it wasn't emotionally engaging because it was in its own way. But it wasn't the sort of feelings I normally get from war films. I didn't care that much about the lead characters. Benedict Cumberbatch (using his deep voice to full authoritative effect), Richard Madden, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong all have roles. 
blog comments powered by Disqus