Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Film Review: 1917

 

Back in the late 1940s and throughout the 50s, as the motion picture studios sought to fight off the advancement of the one-eyed monster called “television,” film studios experimented with gimmicks to lure their once faithful audiences out of their living rooms and back into the theaters. It saw the introductions of wide screens, curved screens, 3-D glasses, even a run at “Smell-O-Rama.” One of those early attempts to redefine the motion picture experience was Rope, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1949 attempt to replicate a “real-time” experience by shooting a single-set story in long uncut takes, the longest of which pushed it to the limits of a 10-minute film magazine (10:06).

We seem to be back in that era. Sam Mendes’ latest picture, 1917, harkens back to Hitchcock and creates a movie with a single two-hour tracking shot. Like Hitchcock, Mendes and his editor use blackouts and other distractions like a plunge underwater to hide the seams. At first, you might think it’s rather a nifty technique and it does work very well during the action sequences. But the rest of the time it becomes an annoyance, but maybe it’s me. Having directed my share of television over the course of my career and watched others much more talented than I do it even better, I believe the best direction is almost transparent and should always enhance the story and never do anything that ends up saying, “Look at what I can do!” That’s also the danger of CGI.

The film becomes a slave to the technique. The main actors, Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay needed to be “on set” even before there were any sets. How many trenches should we dig? Well, how long does it take for the boys to recite their lines while they’re moving? That’s how many trenches we want.

Like another film set in the era of George V, 1917 has garnered a boatload of Oscar nominations. But even Titanic (1997) managed to grab two nominations for its actors (Kate Winslet and Gloria Stuart). No such luck here, it’s almost as if the actors are secondary to the whole art of the modern motion picture.

1917‘s story could have been better. At times it seems like Mendes and his co-writer, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, felt obligated to touch certain preordained emotional buttons: This is where they long for the girl (or family) back home, this is where we show that civilians are too often the victims of war, and here is where we concentrate on the sheer ugliness of armed conflict. The characters come with very little backstory and seem to express very little hope for a post-war world. They inhabit our world for two hours and when you get to the end you don’t even briefly wonder what happens next. And that’s a shame because the experiences of the First World War set the stage for the Second – a conflict that still rules the structure of our modern age.

It’s a good but not great motion picture. It may scoop up its share of BAFTAs and Oscars but this is where you remind yourself that such accolades are only received in the context of the other offerings of the previous 12 months. If you’re looking to educate someone on the realities of that time in history I would recommend Peter Jackson’s documentary They Shall Not Grow Old instead.

Published in Entertainment
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 24 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. LC Member
    LC Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I approach documentaries and movies very differently. I highly appreciate both They Shall Not Grow Old and 1917 for different reasons. I’m not expecting 1917 to teach me anything new about WWI. I think its marketing was very effective. When I heard Sam Mendes was shooting a “one continuous shot” WWI movie with Roger Deakins, I was super pumped for it. And the trailer helped it out even more.

    I expected beautiful Deakins cinematography, little dialogue, and a very simple story. I got all of that and I enjoyed it more than I expected. I went to watch the movie with a group of people ranging from 17-61 in age and we all found it to be very immersive. In addition, the movie brought George Mackay to my attention (the camera loved him). It’s a movie that makes me really appreciate the art and technicalities of filmmaking. The fact that they rehearsed for 6 months even before filming anything just to get the timing of the scenes right is impressive to me.

    Given how successful the movie has been so far, I’m glad it’s bringing more attention back to WWI beyond what They Shall Not Grow Old did. Hopefully, it’ll actually get more people to watch They Shall Not Grow Old.

    • #1
    • January 21, 2020, at 1:35 PM PST
    • 12 likes
  2. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    The whole movie I was thinking, why don’t they use one of the airplanes to deliver the message? 

    • #2
    • January 21, 2020, at 6:53 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  3. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    The whole movie I was thinking, why don’t they use one of the airplanes to deliver the message?

    I was wondering the same thing. It could be that the air base was too far away. A plane back then could fly about 75 miles per hour and be in the air for a few hours so the base could be forty miles away.

    • #3
    • January 21, 2020, at 7:03 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    When they show the chaps stringing telephone cable along the trenches? That was my grandfather, albeit in the uniform of the United States Army Signal Corps. We don’t tell enough stories of that generation.

    • #4
    • January 21, 2020, at 7:18 PM PST
    • 8 likes
  5. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    EJHill (View Comment):

    When they show the chaps stringing telephone cable along the trenches? That was my grandfather, albeit in the uniform of the United States Army Signal Corps. We don’t tell enough stories of that generation.

    Agreed. In many ways WWI was much more brutal than WWII. Most of its stories were eclipse by WWII and time.

    • #5
    • January 21, 2020, at 7:34 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  6. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Fake John/Jane Galt (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    When they show the chaps stringing telephone cable along the trenches? That was my grandfather, albeit in the uniform of the United States Army Signal Corps. We don’t tell enough stories of that generation.

    Agreed. In many ways WWI was much more brutal than WWII. Most of its stories were eclipse by WWII and time.

    One of the problems of WWI stories is that there was very little change of territory. Just month after month and year after year of dying in the same fields of France. Contrast that with WWII with tanks in Africa, Pacific carrier battles, island hopping, the Blitz,… A true world war. I watched this 1943 movie called “Air Force” last week. It was a propaganda film about a B17 crew flying from San Fran to Hawaii to Wake Island and onward. The movie had those maps with animated dotted lines to explain the geography. It was dandy. 

    • #6
    • January 21, 2020, at 9:21 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  7. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):
    One of the problems of WWI stories is that there was very little change of territory. Just month after month and year after year of dying in the same fields of France.

    It became rather embarrassing to the brass and the politicians behind them, so the “news” published maps without any scale, showing what looked like real movement when it was a matter of yards in the mutual meat grinder. 

    • #7
    • January 21, 2020, at 9:51 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  8. Clifford A. Brown Contributor

    This review, like others I have seen so far, suggested a first-person shooter game more so than a movie. Then again, there have been plenty of first-person-shooter games turned into movies. If it works, it works.

    • #8
    • January 21, 2020, at 9:54 PM PST
    • 1 like
  9. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    LC (View Comment):

    I approach documentaries and movies very differently. I highly appreciate both They Shall Not Grow Old and 1917 for different reasons. I’m not expecting 1917 to teach me anything new about WWI. I think its marketing was very effective. When I heard Sam Mendes was shooting a “one continuous shot” WWI movie with Roger Deakins, I was super pumped for it. And the trailer helped it out even more.

    I expected beautiful Deakins cinematography, little dialogue, and a very simple story. I got all of that and I enjoyed it more than I expected. I went to watch the movie with a group of people ranging from 17-61 in age and we all found it to be very immersive. In addition, the movie brought George Mackay to my attention (the camera loved him). It’s a movie that makes me really appreciate the art and technicalities of filmmaking. The fact that they rehearsed for 6 months even before filming anything just to get the timing of the scenes right is impressive to me.

    Given how successful the movie has been so far, I’m glad it’s bringing more attention back to WWI beyond what They Shall Not Grow Old did. Hopefully, it’ll actually get more people to watch They Shall Not Grow Old.

    Fun to hear the thoughts representing a more positive experience of the film. EJHill makes it sound like anyone watching 1917 might Not Grow Old, due to the film’s boredom killing them off. But you make it sound worthwhile.

    Always interesting how many takes on movies are out there. I’ll have to check it out to see which of you two I agree with.

    • #9
    • January 22, 2020, at 1:40 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  10. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Military experts were convinced the war would be over with quickly, as they thought the war would take on a traditional approach of cavalry fighting cavalry. They didn’t envision it being fought by men in trenches, nor did they anticipate the participation of armies using tanks and airplanes.

    • #10
    • January 22, 2020, at 1:45 AM PST
    • 1 like
  11. MarciN Member

    I think the entire second season of Downton Abbey provided viewers with a very realistic sense of World War I. Much of the war was fought in a certain relatively fixed location that the armies went to and from. The scenes in the trenches were interspersed with the scenes of the officers going on leave back to England for a week or two at a time. 

    For a low-budget television series, it was a remarkable portrayal of the war.

    • #11
    • January 22, 2020, at 2:27 AM PST
    • 1 like
  12. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    Military experts were convinced the war would be over with quickly, as they thought the war would take on a traditional approach of cavalry fighting cavalry. They didn’t envision it being fought by men in trenches, nor did they anticipate the participation of armies using tanks and airplanes.

    They one consistent thing about military experts is they are normally wrong about the future.

    • #12
    • January 22, 2020, at 4:37 AM PST
    • 1 like
  13. Old Bathos Moderator

    I thought the film was fantastic. The single-camera technique was done so well, so seamlessly it made everything seem intimately real. The series of characters encountered along the way were all superbly acted. (Andrew Scott who was spectacular in Sherlock was also brilliant in 1917.) The tone or near-fatalism of being in an insanely stupid war came through as well.

    • #13
    • January 22, 2020, at 6:13 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. Jeffery Shepherd Member

    I’m glad you mentioned the story of the movie. I was left unsatisfied by it. I could say the story sucked but maybe that’s too harsh and maybe I expected more. I think my expectation was that I would feel like I did after watching Saving Private Ryan or Three Billboards Outside Ebbing – moved. Maybe the brits who watch it will feel it. I didn’t and that was a miss by the movie maker.

    • #14
    • January 22, 2020, at 7:43 AM PST
    • 1 like
  15. ToryWarWriter Thatcher

    DonG (skeptic) (View Comment):

    The whole movie I was thinking, why don’t they use one of the airplanes to deliver the message?

    But then Don we wouldnt have a movie!

    It is pretty well hinted at that the commanders believe the battalion colonel might willfully ignore the order, and the hope of sending it in person might force a confrontation which he cant ignore.

    I mean we are talking about a time when a French general put his orders in his pocket and didnt read the orders not to attack, till after he launched the attack.

    There are some nitpicks here and there that I make and the 2nd act is pretty dumb at times, but I enjoyed it for what it was. I highly recommend people watch this movie. This is the type of movie we need more of.

    • #15
    • January 22, 2020, at 9:33 AM PST
    • 1 like
  16. ToryWarWriter Thatcher

    I am also surprised (not really), that no one among the reviewers (professional on screen) recognizes when the movie is actually dated to occur as, cause its kind of an important day during the war.

     

    • #16
    • January 22, 2020, at 9:37 AM PST
    • Like
  17. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    ToryWarWriter: I am also surprised (not really), that no one among the reviewers (professional on screen) recognizes when the movie is actually dated to occur as, cause its kind of an important day during the war.

    That day isn’t exactly seared on our memories, such as Sept. 3, 1939 or Dec. 7, 1941.

     

    • #17
    • January 22, 2020, at 9:57 AM PST
    • Like
  18. ToryWarWriter Thatcher

    EJHill (View Comment):

    ToryWarWriter: I am also surprised (not really), that no one among the reviewers (professional on screen) recognizes when the movie is actually dated to occur as, cause its kind of an important day during the war.

    That day isn’t exactly seared on our memories, such as Sept. 3, 1939 or Dec. 7, 1941.

     

    It should. April 6th, 1917 the day the USA declared war on Germany and entered the Great War.

    • #18
    • January 22, 2020, at 3:04 PM PST
    • 1 like
  19. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    ToryWarWriter: It should. April 6th, 1917 the day the USA declared war on Germany and entered the Great War.

    I thought for you Canadians the most important dates were April 9-12 when all four divisions of the Canadian Army fought together for the first time for King and country and defeated the Hun at Vimy Ridge.

    • #19
    • January 22, 2020, at 5:15 PM PST
    • Like
  20. Skyler Coolidge

    Regarding the geography and path: First they go along their own trenches and find some lunatic lieutenant out of “Apocalyple Now” who tells them how to reach the enemy trenches. They pass through No Man’s Land and enter the enemy trenches, not knowing if they are occupied. After a series of misadventures, they pass through the unoccupied enemy trenches and run into a small convoy of British trucks carrying a company of soldiers along to a place along their intended route.

    How did these trucks get there? I could buy into running into a lost company of infantry behind the lines, but having them in trucks is absurd. How would these trucks have gotten through enemy trench lines? The funny thing about trenches is that they take a lot of work to build and anywhere that extensive trenches were in place was going to be a static defensive position, not a haphazard location reached due to chaotic maneuver. What happens next is baffling.

    Then the surviving soldier leaves the convoy and crosses a river, all while being sniped at by a really bad marksman from about 150 yards away. Sheesh, any Marine would have needed only one shot. From there he seems to be in some sort of hellish town that is quasi occupied by Germans. Then he jumps in the river and floats down the rapids, down a waterfall, and climbs out to find the unit he’s looking for. They have no sentries posted. He walks right up to them dripping wet while they’re listening to one of their own singing a sad song. No one challenges him, asks where he’s from, or offers to help him. Good thing he wasn’t a German or a host of Germans, because they wouldn’t have even noticed. Notice that he didn’t cross any trench lines again. Suddenly he’s among trenches again, very sophisticated and well constructed. The unit has been there a very long time, obviously. But somehow they were lost and hard to find. Maybe someone should have just driven a truck and saved a lot of effort.

    • #20
    • February 4, 2020, at 7:29 PM PST
    • Like
  21. Skyler Coolidge

    Ok, I did it. I listened to others and ignored my own gut instinct and I watched “1917.” And I regret it.

    It’s like no one in Hollywood has ever been in or seriously studied war. Oh, wait.

    First, why can’t it ever be a messenger sending a message to START an attack? Why can’t fighting to win actually be in the plot?

    Second, the geographic explanation of how to reach the unit doesn’t make sense to me. The unit isn’t so remote that the soldiers run into another British unit going the same way with trucks. How did that happen?

    Using messengers was very common in that war and in every other war in human history, even today. Why was it suddenly so novel to send a messenger to this one unit? Why when he finally arrived was he forcefully kept from delivering his message? Doesn’t everyone know that messengers need to deliver messages?

    If the message was so critical, why didn’t they drop a message from an airplane? Heck, from the terrain they could have easily landed an airplane at the battalion.

    Doesn’t everyone know that if you ever put milk in a canteen then you ruin the canteen? Okay, that criticism is weak, but it’s a pathetic plot device to then use that milk in the cliche run-in with the baby needing milk.

    It was inordinately common for there to be very bad communication between headquarters and field units and within field units once the maneuver part of a WWI battle commenced. These units weren’t even maneuvering, they had sophisticated trenches. Why was it so hard to contact them? Why didn’t they run a new phone line or just repair the line that was cut? That was a common thing to do. Once a phone line is cut, especially between static units, both sides would immediately send phone wire chasers along the line to find the break. That phone line would have been patched up long before this guy reached the place by going through enemy territory (instead of through friendly territory).

    How would the general know about the Lance Corporal having a brother in the unit? Why was that even important?

    Most Brits and Americans who fought in that war were incredibly brave and motivated and loved to fight. I wish we could have a war movie that portrayed that reality.

    And finally, the general said that the message needed to be delivered within 8 hours or something like that. Yet it’s filmed in real time and he gets there in less than two hours. So why is the attack commencing as he arrives?

    Well, he did pass out for a while after getting shot in the face or neck, though they don’t at all explain how he survived it. Perhaps he was passed out for six hours? That completely ruins the “real time” nature of the film though, doesn’t it?

     

    • #21
    • February 4, 2020, at 7:32 PM PST
    • 1 like
  22. Skyler Coolidge

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):
    There are some nitpicks here and there that I make and the 2nd act is pretty dumb at times, but I enjoyed it for what it was. I highly recommend people watch this movie. This is the type of movie we need more of.

    I have a serious disagreement with that position.

    We need far less of movies like this.

    Peter Jackson’s movie was excellent. It showed real people and real events and described the men in respectful ways.

    I don’t need everything to be historically precise, but I do think when wars are portrayed that the men doing the heroic fighting should be portrayed heroically.

    Here we have a movie about bumbles wandering off by themselves in places that could not have possibly existed, for a mission that is frankly stupid.

    I just finished reading “Devil Dogs” by George B. Clark, a very detailed and hard look at the US Marines in WWI. He was very critical of much of the mythology of the Marines fighting there, but at the same time very respectful of their tremendous heroism. Yes, there was chaos, confusion, and men being put into attacks without good preparation. But they fought, and fought hard, and a lot of people died while they nonetheless kept fighting.

    Instead we are asked to swallow a scenario that could not have happened and didn’t make any sense, all in the service of stopping the fighting and the heroism.

    I wish we could respect them enough to tell the story of what they did a lot better than this.

    • #22
    • February 4, 2020, at 7:44 PM PST
    • 1 like
  23. ToryWarWriter Thatcher

    I get what your saying Skyler but for god sakes, I can barely get these guys to make this in 40 years, let alone a truly accurate movie what you want.

    I am well aware of all the nonsense your talking about. I just read a book on the Argonne but I like to accept good enough without demanding perfection and purity that I will never see.

    Seriously you remind me of a bernie bro demanding a level of purity we can never attain and will lose the Democrats an election.

    Do you seriously think we will get the type of movies you want, by making this one FAIL?

    • #23
    • February 5, 2020, at 5:41 AM PST
    • Like
  24. Skyler Coolidge

    ToryWarWriter (View Comment):

    I get what your saying Skyler but for god sakes, I can barely get these guys to make this in 40 years, let alone a truly accurate movie what you want.

    I am well aware of all the nonsense your talking about. I just read a book on the Argonne but I like to accept good enough without demanding perfection and purity that I will never see.

    Seriously you remind me of a bernie bro demanding a level of purity we can never attain and will lose the Democrats an election.

    Do you seriously think we will get the type of movies you want, by making this one FAIL?

    I don’t know that I’m talking about purity. I fully understand where inaccuracy is acceptable. For example, “Apocalypse Now” has nothing to do with realism, and the war is only a vehicle for the theme of the movie.

    But the point I’m making is not that there are inaccuracies, as annoying as they are, but the main point is that this purports to be a movie to celebrate the role of messengers in WWI, and then they make a movie that frankly down plays the real dangers and difficulties that messengers faced while making some fantastical nonsense.

    Every military unit I’ve ever been in had jerks and incompetents in it even among battalion commanders. What I never saw, though, was any of the cliches in this movie.

    And yes, I’d rather they make no movie at all than to make insulting nonsense like this. Or “Hacksaw Ridge” which lionized a putrid sap that was too immoral and anti-social to fight.

     

    • #24
    • February 5, 2020, at 8:38 AM PST
    • 1 like