By Daniel Occelli (Mexico City)
“I hoped today would be a good day. Hope is a dangerous thing.”
1917 is the acclaimed war epic directed by Sam Mendes that everyone’s talking about.
It stars Dean Charles Chapman and George MacKay as two corporals in the British Army that are given the mission to deliver a very important message to another battalion in another trench.
What can I say about this film, did I like it? I loved it, but the backlash it’s been getting is justified, the story is extremely simple, get from point A to point B, that’s it, and a lot of people are complaining about it, let me tell you about some similar movies that nobody seemed to have an issue with. Gravity, Dunkirk and Mad Max: Fury Road, what do this 4 films have in common? I still have no clue how the hell they managed to pull them off.
The story in 1917 is in fact bland and the script can even be described as simple, a weak story if I’m exaggerating, and if you’ve read my other reviews I’m a sucker for a good script, my favorite films this year are some of the best scripts I’ve seen portrayed in the big screen, but I was left perplexed after watching this film, and before I get into all the reasons why I’ll get the negatives out of the way.
The story is in fact a bit simple, I cared about this characters as opposed to maybe Dunkirk, but they still weren’t developed enough, they even hid some key characteristics of our main character and I thought it was unwise, not because they hid it, but because I knew exactly what they were hiding. I never felt surprised when they revealed those details, and it just felt like an excuse to give us a little more emotional impact in the last shot, but they could’ve done it without that whole scheme. Also Lance Corporal Schofield was way too lucky throughout this mission. It felt like a Mary Sue situation where he’s extremely skilled and lucky in comparison to every German soldier he encounters. In Sam Mendes defense he wasn’t portrayed as a super soldier, but just a very fortunate human being.
Now let’s talk about why this film is the frontrunner for best picture, why everybody’s talking about it, and why it works so well.
The craft… The craft behind this film is just spectacular. Roger Deakins outdid himself, I mean, Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival are two of the most beautifully shot films I’ve seen, but what he did here is phenomenal. You’ve probably heard this and if you’ve watched this movie you definitely noticed it, but the film is done in a way that tricks the audience into thinking it’s only one shot. This not only works in a technical way, but it helps the narrative a lot by keeping the sense of urgency and danger going throughout the whole film. The urgency aspect is present because we are living this mission in real time, and the feeling of dread works with every turn of the camera. It always makes you look at the corners for German soldiers, you never feel safe while watching this film and I loved it.
This movie also has one of the best scenes I’ve seen in my life. After I was done I had to google how they did it. I won’t spoil anything, just keep your eyes open in the scene involving flares, it’s insane how amazing that scene is. Those 10 minutes make the whole experience worth it, even if you hate everything else.
The score keeps the film going in its transition moments. The performances are pretty amazing, and the ending is beautiful. That scene you’ve all seen on trailers, in the big green landscape was also amazing.
I was amazed while watching 1917, and even if the story is not very strong, I do see it winning the Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director, among a bunch of technical awards, (cinematography is a lock, don’t screw that one up on your ballots).
I will give 1917 an 8.9/10 a technical masterpiece and a pretty great war flick.
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