Technically wowing 1917 plays out like a tedious game
If you are a Call of Duty video game fan, particularly if you like watching while someone else plays Call of Duty video games, then you will love the new World War I action film, 1917. But if watching video games is not your cup of tea, this film gets a little tiring and tedious after a while.
To be clear, with its nonstop action and long-take filmmaking technique, 1917 is an enormously huge cinematic achievement, and on a technical level alone it is absolutely worth watching. On the storytelling side though, it doesn’t amount to much more than two soldiers going from point-A to point-B and overcoming obstacle after obstacle.
The young British soldiers, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), are sent on a mission to cross miles of enemy infested and war-torn French countryside to warn fellow troops – and Blake’s brother – of a pending ambush… and go!
The first 10 minutes or so of 1917 is the most monotonous of the film, as we follow Blake and Schofield through the trenches and hundreds of soldier extras as the heroes work their way towards the front line. You learn, okay, the camera is never going to stop following these guys, and although that is somewhat cool to see, it can also become pretty boring. Fortunately it picks up tempo from there and is often very intense and exhausting.
I don’t want to undermine the incredible technical achievements regarding this film’s cinematography, by the renowned Roger Deakins; but writer/director Sam Mendes should have invested a little more effort in developing his two main characters and making us care more about them and their survival. Like, who are these guys?
I suppose an argument could be made that Mendes wanted to portray the individual soldiers and their stories as insignificant in the bigger picture of war that he is showing us. But as the film is allegedly based on the real stories his grandfather told him, I doubt that is the case; and the narrative does show how one man can make a difference.
I think 1917 will provide plenty of fodder for film geeks and students to debate story-depth over technical gimmickry and how to best strike the right balance. For me, the action over story didn’t quite work.