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1917 Cannoli Send a noteboard - 15/01/2020 03:09:55 AM

If you can get past the immersion-breaking implausible plot point that gets the story going, this was pretty good.

Said implausible moment is when the two main characters (two British guys, one of whom is Dean-Charles Chapman, who has played people named Tom in absolutely everything in which I've seen him: Tommen 'Baratheon' on "Game of Thrones"; Thomas, Duke of Clarence, presumably [he's the son of Henry IV, but events in his life diverge from his historical inspiration], in "The King" and now Lance-Corporal Thomas Blake), soldiers in the BEF in World War One, are called before a general commanding their army. This World War One British General, has ascertained from solid intelligence, that a regiment under his command is readying an assault on an enemy position that is too well-fortified for the attack to succeed, and he wants to call off the attack to save the lives of his men. Seriously. Colin Firth REALLY has got to stop playing these unbelievably ahistoric characters, like George VI in "The King's Speech" who have been drastically altered to appeal modern sensibilities.

Anyway, the two Lance-Corporals, Blake and Scofield, are sent on a mission that involves taking a shortcut across a stretch of no-man's land, to reach the regiment before their attack begins and deliver the general's order calling it off. Blake has been selected because he has a brother in the attacking unit, so he is presumably an additional piece of authenticity for the recipient unit. Their odyssey takes them through the corpse-riddled mud of prior battlefields, abandoned German trenches, ruined farms and the blasted remnants of an occupied town. The visuals are a noteworthy aspect of the movie, with no breaks or cuts in the scenes. The camera appears to steadily follow Blake and Scofield as they walk from an idyllic grassy meadow where they are napping when they are summoned for orders, through increasingly oppressive fortifications of the communications trenches and rear dugouts, then up to the front. The setting through which they pass tells a story of earth-rending destruction, while highlighting its pointlessness and futility. Notable actors, such as Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Richard Madden (hilariously cast as Chapman's brother) make brief appearances, but most of the cast are as faceless and anonymous as the ordinary soldiers they play. The lack of cuts gives the story a sense of the relentless nature of war, as the setting changes seamlessly from nightmare hell-scapes with human remains as terrain features, to the lifeless deserted enemy positions, to peaceful bucolic countryside and back to contested towns in which the visuals represent nothing so much as a glimpse of hell. The trenches and dugouts of "the Devons" look like a streak of desert carved into a green field, which is as on-the-nose as you can get for this sort of war story, without actual words saying as much. I'm not a visual film audience, but even I couldn't help but be struck by it and the director, Sam Mendes' use of camera work and setting to convey the movie's themes of futility and the powerlessness of men when in the grip of a war.

There are scenes of combat, but they are more like something that happens to the protagonists, rather than a stage on which they act. Where other movies focus on the tactics or skills or abilities the soldier-characters employ to win or survive or fail a particular scenario, from the beginning there is a feeling that in this story, life and death and success are random. Neither skill or experience nor effort nor virtue nor idealism get you through a fight or an episode of danger. Some people live, some die, because of where they are or where they happened to be. In all the gunshots that come the way of Blake and Scofield, I believe it is only in one scene where you actually see who's shooting at them. It's as impersonal as it is random, in spite of the sometimes very face-to-face or personal nature of various narrative conflicts.

Now, I'm not even a fan of Sam Mendes, who directed & co-wrote this movie, which is dedicated to WW1 veteran, Alfred Mendes. I've seem a few of his movies, but I've only liked "Road to Perdition," and I've posted some pretty scathing reviews of his Bond movies here. But I liked this. It's good. Not action or exciting, or even particularly informative (despite the very specific dating of the plot, there is absolutely no sense of what this story has to do with the greater war or if it means anything to anybody but the men involved). It's not a great story, like "Midway" or "Saving Private Ryan" or "Dunkirk" or "Hacksaw Ridge" or whatever your war movie preferences might be, but it's a pretty good film.

Cannoli
“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
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This message last edited by Cannoli on 15/01/2020 at 03:17:33 AM
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1917 - 15/01/2020 03:09:55 AM 57 Views
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