Sam Mendes’ flamboyantly mounted WW1 epic 1917 is packed with cinematic extravaganza, in its penchant for dramatic storytelling, operatic picturization of war and also befuddling viewers with technical wizardry. Consequently, the intent for immersive viewing experience got muddled with predictability and gimmickry. The narrative kicks off when Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are entrusted with delivering a message to another battalion to halt their planned attack against the Germans who’re mistakenly assumed to be on retreat, but essentially waiting to wreak massacre; the fact that Blake’s elder brother is in that battalion made this as much a personal mission for him as a patriotic duty (the premise was similar to Saving Private Ryan). This inanely absurd task, albeit one bound to end largely in success despite the outlandish challenges, was taken into the realms of a video game through deliberately placed hurdles, including a German bunker sitting on a ticking bomb, a dogfight ending at their footsteps, foot chase through a town straight out of Dante’s Inferno, and surviving a raging waterfall. And then there’re oodles of cloying sentimentality thrown in too, thus conveniently amplifying Blake’s humanist idealism and mellowing Schofield’s cynicism. Making use of stunning SFX wherein multiple shots weare artificially stitched into a seemingly unbroken single-take lasting the film’s 2-hour duration, it therefore turned out as a spectacularly shot war movie providing a typical rehash of “heroism” and “duty before self”, instead of one that delves into the madness, senselessness, moral ambiguities, ironies, banalities, and other gray complexities therein. That said, the initial part of their odyssey painted a visceral and disorienting vision of purgatory, which strikingly captured the urgliness and brutality of war.
Director: Sam Mendes