1917 ★★

The unbroken shots in Children of Men created a deliberate cinematic effect, framing our attention and paying mind to pace, using the technique to add a unique element of choreography that complimented the goals of the story. Birdman created an atmosphere of time slipping away as doubt and self-destruction threaten to destroy a play as we hurtle toward its opening. In 1917 Sam Mendes has simply found a more difficult way to achieve something conventional. It's a cinematic lipogram.

There are no real obstacles. No enemies have even modest targeting skills and few things ever feel like a threat to our leads. There is an exception to this and the scene's presence, if not its details, are unsurprising. Even a language barrier is no obstacle in one scene, with characters understanding each other perfectly and repeating the key phrases in English so the subtitles are as superfluous as the tricky camerawork.

Bodies and rats and dolls are placed and framed like the props, digital and otherwise, that they are. Everything is held up for the camera and then named. Compare the spare dialog of Dunkirk (whose editing gimmick supports its theme) and wonder why this film needs to shout out things like "There it is, there's the front line!" and "They got him!"

Everything - the performances, the design, the effects, and yes the camerawork which is the entire reason for this exercise - is interesting only if you step outside the film and consider the difficult circumstances the filmmakers made for themselves. Experienced inside the film, none of it carries the day, and the film slips into tedium when its ticking clock should have us on edge.

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