1917 ★★½

If a viewer has watched any melodramatic war film before, they've seen 1917 without even recognizing it. While Roger Deakins tried making this film stand out amongst the pack with its one-shot gimmick, it merely comes across as an attempt to look cool. Films like Birdman have plenty of context to its method of shooting, making it inseparable from the film. Other than to show off how much coordination was at play, 1917's cinematography is purposeless. I still admire some of the technical aspects, even with noticeable cuts, but that appreciation is independent of the film itself. As a part of the film itself, the cinematography paired with the narrative made me feel like I saw a glorified third-person shooter.

The narrative is the most frustrating part of 1917 by far, particularly as someone who can't stand formulated war cinema. Despite this film's desperate attempts at shoving in character development throughout the first act, I couldn't even tell the two main characters apart. Every piece of dialogue is the most expository line in the world, and every scene fills itself with conveniences to keep the plot moving forward. It's nearly impossible to experience the horrors of war when the main character feels invincible, and that's especially true in the second half. Every German soldier had the worst aim ever, and that doesn't do any favors to any audience member wanting to experience something visceral. How is an audience member supposed to sense danger when supposedly trained soldiers miss at close-range, particularly when that target's only traveling one direction?

Another staple of run-of-the-mill war films that 1917 couldn't resist was copious amounts of emotional manipulation. The score itself sounded like the soundtrack to an installment of Call of Duty, and every scene it appeared in was grating. It's especially annoying when there are plenty of scenes that could've succeeded in its intended emotion had it not been for the music. The encounter with the sniper could've been tense, had it not been for the music screaming "this is a tense scene!" with every note. According to this film's rulebook, all that's required to get the intended response is making the emotional scenes as quiet as possible and the intense scenes as loud as possible. 1917 doesn't earn any of it, and it severs any connection that a war film should make with its audience.

The acting was serviceable, but that didn't help bridge the gap any further. Visceral performances are part of the reason why war cinema can explore the horrors of battle, and that's not present here. Everyone feels like they're going through the motions and don't excel beyond that. While there's nothing outwardly incompetent, there's nothing that helps improve the experience either. 1917 was so unspecial at its core that I spent much of the running time trying to find other things to appreciate about it, and it was a tough task. While some of the choreography became more impressive by the second-half, the melodrama and cut-stitching got much worse, canceling that out.

Few films summarize what I try avoiding in cinema as well as 1917, as the worst ones are those that I forget within a week. It's a tedious and schmaltzy experience that I never want to sit through again; while it's far from the worst writing of 2019, it's some of the most annoying personally. The landscape of war cinema includes some of the most harrowing pieces of film ever made, and it's aggravating that films like 1917 are the ones that get mainstream attention. I understand that every war film doesn't need to be the most crushingly bleak experience ever made, but I'd at least like an experience that isn't frustration at the film rather than with it.

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