IronWatcher’s review published on Letterboxd:
Watched in the cinema
One Take movies are mostly a mixed bag, because as much as the feeling of real time is conjured up on the one hand, every single movement is planned very accurately. In this respect, authenticity and artificiality are in open contradiction. For this reason, scepticism is actually appropriate from the outset, when in 1917 it is advertised as being a real "right in the middle instead of just there" experience (as a war film even more so, but this moral objection is once again a subject in its own right and a bottomless pit).
Sam Mendes' big problem is that he can't sell his technicism. At the beginning, two British soldiers get the order to deliver an important letter to another unit, on whose transmission far more than 1000 lives depend. On their way they have to cross enemy territory, which makes the matter particularly dangerous. Sounds like a mission from a video game? It kind of is, except we're not supposed to interfere.
Yes, the movie looks fantastic, the nightly part in Écoust even reminds us of a really scary fever dream. How could it be otherwise when Roger Deakins is behind the camera. Despite the impressive images, there is no urgency about what we see, which could have something to do with the fact that we are essentially watching an obstacle course reminiscent of the Olympic Games - George MacKay's character seems to be 1000 times more fit than Usain Bolt at his best and Roger Federer together. It's as if James Bond has now entered World War I.
The few moments in which the film comes to rest seem artificial and at times also press a little on the tear gland, although 1917 could or should have won here in particular - because the action (Corporal Schofield runs his comrades down while bombs go off behind him) as well as the dialogues often touch the border to involuntary comedy. Incredibly badly written and implemented is for example the late scene with Benedict Cumberbatch, after which I thought: Wow, that was it?
There's not much in the way of depth of character in 1917, although I don't find that too negative. In Dunkirk, for example, the anonymity of the young soldiers was an advantage, or at least not an obstacle, because Nolan gave them something universal and his production really got on my nerves (at least mine).
Both films, by the way, show a race against time, but Mendes limits himself to one perspective and ultimately builds himself a prison. I am firmly convinced that no film makes history solely on the basis of its images, and that is why 1917 will be forgotten in 2 years at the latest. No matter how many more awards it should win after the Golden Globes surprise. The longer I think about it, the more hollow it seems to me inside.
A movie without a soul.