1917 (2019) — A tour through a long-forgotten nightmare

“There is only one way this war ends. Last man standing.”

Justin’s rating: I’m just here for the ancient tanks

Justin’s review: Every once in a while I get a real hankering for a solid war drama/action/thing. It’s not often, but when the mood strikes, it strikes hard. I want inspirational stories, old timey war action, and people to cheer on. So when I felt this way recently, I finally plopped in the much-acclaimed 1917 for a first watch.

I don’t really care as much about 1917’s accolades as I do about the fact that it was a big-budget movie set in World War I. That’s just not a setting that Hollywood goes with these days (or, you know, ever). Plus, the gimmick of the movie at least appearing like it’s a single long continuous take — it wasn’t, but you can buy into the illusion that it is — convinced me to go over the top for this one.

And it’s World War I’s underrepresentation in film that gives 1917 an opportunity to become more than a gimmick. The movie follows a pair of British soldiers — Schofield and Blake — as they receive and then carry out an order to run a dire message across the No Man’s Land of France. If they can get to their destination in time, they may be able to save 1600 soldiers from a futile attack. If not, then most of those troops, including Blake’s older brother, will probably die.

This simple, straight-forward mission allows the movie to take the audience on an uninterrupted tour through a warzone that, again, is not quite as familiar to film audiences. It snakes through the trenches, across the mud-slagged pits that lay between, and deep into enemy territory.

In a real way, 1917 is like the movie equivalent of a rather bleak amusement park dark ride. We’re yanked along a track from setpiece to setpiece, soaking in the environment and maybe even learning a thing or two about the reality of the war itself. It’s certainly nothing to romanticize, that’s for sure.

I suspect that the camera trickery and unusual setting masks the fact that this movie is kind of shallow (which is, come to think about it, pretty typical of Sam Mendes movies — pretty but shallow). Sure, there’s some symbolism and the usual “war is pointless” motif, but the actual plot is pretty basic without that many outstanding characters to champion. It’s fine, it satisfied my hankering, but I’m not going to be singing 1917’s praises from the rooftops.

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