1917 ★★★

I have mixed feelings about this film, maybe unreasonably coloured by my extreme distaste for the obnoxious American Beauty, which I suffered last week.

The first hour of 1917 is really good. I was impressed by the way in which I became excited even by the two men just traversing the British trench towards their first objective. The scene with the stabbing and death of soldier is genuinely horrible and surprisingly well done - overall, this part of the film was really grimy and realistic, commendably so. 

This film, in my opinion, pretty much falls apart in the second half. Schofield getting shot but being basically fine was ridiculous and destroyed my sense of immersion. His involvement soon after with the French woman and her baby was pretty tiresome - why does every war movie set in France have a hot French woman interlude? Fury was guilty of this but with Germany. 

The night time sequence with the drunk soldier etc felt like the film had basically devolved from a semi-serious war film into a mission from Uncharted set in WW1, from here on I just found the film depressingly disappointing and facile. 

The tone of 1917 generally is muddled. One minute the main character has his hand buried in the abdomen of the soldier who has presumably been dead for months and the next minute the drums are going and we are back in adventure mode. I think this undercuts the good work which Deakins’ one take approach does in immersing the viewer in what they are experiencing.

The highlight of the film visually to my mind is the scene where he gets swept out of the river and finds a British contingent in the forest. God, that looked so good; it’s a shame it was marred by the emotional cop out that is inserting a ‘sentimental but sombre’ song scene into a war film. Paths of Glory manages this far better because it is at the end and not in between spells of extreme violence. The last shot was quite touching but other than that, emotional engagement is not a prominent feature of this and when it is, I felt manipulated rather than authentically moved. 

The moral/political/scholarly genius of making a film about for benevolence and omniscience of the British officer class in a war where they are acknowledged to have cavalierly and ineptly allowed thousands of young British men to die pointlessly is unclear to me and I don’t know why Mendes would do this.

adamhope liked these reviews