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Review: 1917

(Center) George MacKay stars in Universal Pictures' 1917

Before even watching a single second of 1917, I assumed it would at least be nominated for several film awards. It’s the kind of movie that usually gets those things, so it wasn’t exactly like I was making any sort of bold assumptions with my way of thinking. With all of that being said, I don’t really care if it wins anything. Like always, I just wanted it to be the kind of movie I wouldn’t regret watching.

During WWI, two young British soldiers ( played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) are given a mission that is of the utmost importance. With very little time to spare, they must get across what appears to be dormant enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers. This appears to be safe at first, but these young military men know that potential dangers can arise in an instant.

While I assumed 1917 would receive plenty of nominations, I was only proven correct once I actually saw it for myself. This doesn’t mean that I believe this is a great film. In fact, I personally see it as just being a decent and fairly generic motion picture at best. One of the only things that separate it from most of the other war movies over the past couple of decades is that it’s not set during WWII again.

The fact that it’s WWI makes it a little different since the film industry doesn’t spend too much time there. The other thing that separates 1917 from other war movies is that it’s shot in a way to make it appear as if it’s all done in one take. Other than those two things, there’s nothing special about 1917 at all. That might not matter for some, but others (like myself) may need a bit more when it comes to the repetitive nature of war movies.

If director Sam Mendes had cinematographer Roger Deakins actually shoot 1917 like a conventional film, you’d have a hard time explaining to me exactly why I should see this as being anything more than a movie that’s slightly above average. Some people might still love a version of this movie that’s shot like the others, and that’s fine. However, the actual content itself just doesn’t do much for me.

This turns the continuous shot element of 1917 into nothing more than a gimmick that they hope viewers will be hypnotized by. That and them giving out little cameos to several named British actors help in doing that. These factors are essentially used to hide a generic war movie in plain sight.

Overall, it’s shot well (Roger Deakins probably deserves some nominations), but that doesn’t make a movie great. At some point, the actual content needs to have value. That could have come in the form of a solid story, but that element is lacking here probably more than anything else. This should have been the film’s strongest point if you ask me, but it doesn’t look like there was much focus put on it beforehand.

Unfortunately, the story itself is simple, thin, and fairly basic. If you’ve seen enough movies over the years, you would know this isn’t always a bad thing. History has shown us that you can do a lot with a simple premise if it’s done properly. With 1917, I can’t say that that’s the case. They tell us what’s happening at the start and begin to move fairly quickly. This is fine, but other problems persist.

The most significant gripe that I have here comes from a lack of suspense. It starts well, but certain choices are made that remove any sort of thrills that we should receive. I won’t go into specifics, but it reminded me of the issues I had with Gravity. When these choices are made, the movie becomes extremely predictable and basically turns 1917 into an unnecessary practice in extending the run time.

I also question how they used the enemy forces in 1917. I know they exist in galaxies far, far away from one another, but I’m almost certain that the German soldiers in this movie went to the same school as the stormtroopers did. Like their evil brethren, none of these guys can shoot and apparently also have terrible eyesight to boot. I understand why it was important for these guys to be so horrible at their jobs, but it just makes the movie less believable under the circumstances.

The other thing I got from 1917 is that at least on film, Wonder Woman wasn’t the only superhuman to set foot on those battlefields. If you watch this movie, you’ll find that who we’re following is basically indestructible and will never need medical attention or even food at any time in spite of constantly being hungry. To do all of this with no loss of energy is an amazing feat. Who knows what would happen if they performed at tip-top health?

As a viewer, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take from 1917. There just isn’t a whole lot in it outside of the continuous tracking shot. I guess I should mention that the soundtrack is solid as well. If those two things are taken away, it would be difficult to be impressed with what remains. In the end, it may make money, receive praise, and win a couple of awards, but it’s a fairly bland war movie that won’t have a lasting effect on most people. 

Rating: R

Director: Sam Mendes

Sam Mendes
Krysty Wilson-Cairns

George MacKay
Dean-Charles Chapman
Mark Strong
Andrew Scott
Richard Madden
Claire Duburcq
Colin Firth
Benedict Cumberbatch

Film Length: 110 minutes

Release Dates:
December 25th, 2019 (Limited)
Januar 10th, 2020 (Wide)

Distributor: Universal Pictures

  • 5/10
    Score - 5/10
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