A military drama, filmed as if in one shot and surprisingly reminiscent of a video game. Well, isn’t war hell: a review of the film 1917 (2019) – the main favorite Oscar.
1917 is now considered the main contender for the Oscar: he has already won the award for the best film at the Golden Globe, as well as prizes from the producer and director’s guild. All of these are very important indicators of future success at the main Academy Awards.
But a couple of months ago, no one considered the picture as a potential winner of the award season, it was considered another “war film”, which, even if they get to the Oscar, rarely win it. Neither the wonderful “Letters from Iwo Jima”, nor the “Conscientious Reasons”, nor even the great “Saving Private Ryan” did it.
What has changed? Firstly, the social context clearly played in favor of “1917”. Against the backdrop of the aggravated situation in Iran and jokes about the Third World War, a film played with special colors, reminding us that the war is actually a rather vile and senseless thing.
And besides, “1917” is an incredibly complex film in terms of technology. An epic two-hour action filmed as if in one shot: all the cuts, except for one in the middle, are cleverly hidden here by the excellent cinematographer Richard Deakins. Which will surely receive his second Oscar after Blade Runner 2049.
It is curious that director Sam Mendes is not at all the person from whom such a technically complex work was expected. Yes, he filmed two parts of Bond, Skyfall and Spectrum, but he is mainly known as the author of chamber psychological dramas like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road.
Even his last war film, Marines, was about soldiers who never fired a single shot in the entire operation in Iraq.
1917 is in many ways the exact opposite of what Mendes has done before. He wrote the script for the film based on the stories of his grandfather, who in reality served in the British army during the First World War. It was he who told his grandson the story – or maybe an army tale – about two corporals who were sent behind the front line so that they could deliver the order to cancel the offensive. After all, otherwise friendly troops will fall into an ambush, and thousands of soldiers will die.
In theory, due to the closeness of the story – after all, the source of it was the director’s own grandfather – one could expect the film to come out very personal. But everything is exactly the opposite: “1917” is in every sense the picture “impersonal”.
The two leading characters here are only part of the environment, two figures whose characters we learn about only from their direct reaction to the horrors that are happening around. The main character is the war itself: a vile, dirty space with fat rats, rotting corpses and the incessant whistle of bullets.
In some respects, 1917 is reminiscent of Dunkirk, another war film in which people give way to the very elements of war. But if Christopher Nolan was focusing on the whole event at once – in fact, the retreat of the British army from Dunkirk – Sam Mendes is more specific. He is only interested in the private story of two soldiers who, through pain and fear, go on a suicide mission.
Due to the fact that the characters here are more or less impersonal, and the camera, due to the specifics of a single-frame film, relentlessly follows the characters (less often it goes slightly in front of them), “1917” turns out to be unexpectedly similar not to a movie, but to a work of a completely different kind of art. For a video game.
In it, even the plot is built as if according to the rules of game design. Adrenaline scenes of shootings, chases and conditional stealth are always followed by moments where the characters and the viewer are given a chance to rest. Only then to rush to the next checkpoint with renewed vigor.
Secondary characters also support this kind of “video game illusion”. Each of the officers that Corporals Scofield and Blake meet along the way is such a charismatic episode, a person without a past and, in fact, without any personality.
Needed then to give the heroes the items they need for the mission or advice that slightly changes their route.
Comparison with a video game is not a complaint at all, certainly not in the case of 1917. On the contrary, by depriving his film of any connection to specific personalities and shooting it as one seamless adventure, Mendes achieves insane immersion. It is easy for us to imagine ourselves in the place of heroes precisely because we do not really know what kind of people they are. They are just two guys trying to survive.
The effect of immersion in “1917” is so strong that every shot, every deafening explosion or the whistle of a bullet over the ear is felt almost physically. In no film does the viewer become so scared of a random bullet striking right above the hero’s head. So disgusting from a rat running under your feet. And so terribly from a cut hand that accidentally plunged right into a corpse torn apart by a shell.
At the beginning of “1917” it is more interesting to perceive it as a technical achievement – to notice every hidden cut or moment where the movement of the characters is deliberately slowed down so that the camera has time to change the angle. But closer to the finale, Mendez manages to draw the viewer into his simple but very “physical” story, making his skin smell of powder gases and cadaveric rot from the trenches.
And against this background, every moment of calm, every sudden scene of poetic contemplation is felt just as subcutaneously. Even banalities like petals falling on the hero do not actually look like banalities – in a world of extreme emotions, positive feelings should be extreme.
And the frontline jogging scene – the same one that is in all the trailers – is probably the most powerful cathartic moment in the movie of last year. For him, the film can be forgiven for some tempo-rhythmic flaws, and its excessive focus on technicality. After all, such a cinematically perfect movie does not come out often.
I just went to the movie yesterday (the reason was a good one – the past birthday) and there are a couple of thoughts that I would like to share.
One of the best war films?
Personally, I wouldn’t call it that. The movie beautifully and vividly describes the war through the environment of the characters, locations, but without setting any difficult moral dilemmas, choices and decisions. It all comes down to a beautiful picture (and that’s not bad), but I want something more, in addition to excellent visual performance.
How are the actors?
They play, and they play very well, you really believe and empathize with them. Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay perfectly reveal their characters, in fact, one of the main advantages of the film is the actors.
I didn’t understand the situation with Benedict Cumberbatch a little, because such a cool actor was put at the end, in one short scene for 5-6 minutes. Although the moment when he appears in the frame looks very good (apparently this was the calculation).
Camera work and visual
The cinematography is the main plus of the film. The events of the film take place within one day, and the dynamism of the camera, shooting with long shots ( good article ) allow you to literally rivet your eyes on the story and participate in the combat mission.
The visuals of the picture are chic, I will be brief here.
Everything looks very nice, only it has nothing to do with a real war. Beautiful explosions, broads are fascinating, that’s just the point in them as in a smoke bomb.
A true film adaptation of Battlefield 1.
What didn’t you like?
Since the advantages of the film were mainly described above, it would be necessary to say that it was embarrassing and did not go down.
I really liked the part of the film where the fighters got to the German fortifications through no man’s land. Disturbing ambient, camera focus on ordinary soldiers, environment (dirt, sweat and blood), neutral territory, captured by the dead and rats – all this keeps you in suspense, does not let you breathe.
But the conventions that follow after the German bunker, such as undermining the stretch at a distance of 2 meters from the heroes, the dementia of German soldiers, hitting the hero McKay from a pistol at close range, the absolute inefficiency of German artillery (the shells explode beautifully and smoke, but do no damage), spoil the atmosphere of the film and destroy all seriousness.
A good entertaining film, claiming a rating of 10/10.
Go to the cinema, watch an epic war game on the big screen – there is nothing wrong with that. The film does not at all draw on some kind of military epic according to the historical chronicle, it’s just an interesting, slightly adventurous story, breathtaking, but not having any deep author’s ideas.
Thank you for watching! Did you like the movie?