This movie I went into with fresh eyes. I watched one trailer and I knew 1917 was for me. So I never watched another. I went in with just one question, will it compare will it compete, with Dunkirk.
It’s the height of the First World War and we immediately join two friends on a mission. An insanely important mission to save the lives of hundreds and hundreds of their fellow countrymen. That’s where, for me, war movies have an immediate advantage. There is always so much at stake: the ultimate price will payed, sooner or later. Sure, a lot of other movies will arrive at life or death scenarios, but war movies start with them. That’s the minimum. Life or death then the mission, characters and scenery.
Ok, now this review’s gonna get more difficult. Because if you’ve read any of my other reviews for movies I like or love, I really go out of my way not to spoil anything. The more I respect a movie the harder I’ll try and protect its secret moments. So I’ll only talk about specifics if they are in the trailers. Which may give away how much I loved 1917.
Things you notice in the trailer; Lots of running in the trenches, lots of close-follow action. It is the ‘fly one the wall’ style. You’re right there with them, you’re the third silent character of the mission. Again I can’t reveal too much here because it’s a real feature of 1917, the way it is filmed.
Actually for me the shooting style was the dominant memory that stayed with me after walking out the theatre. Now, this thought is worth pausing on as it’s this movie’s strongest point: its absolutely stunning technical beauty. But it was clearly given so much attention that I can’t help but wonder if it tramples some of the emotional immersion of 1917.
How can something on paper that’s so positive be a negative? Well for 70 or 80 percent of the movie, it is amazing. Their truly wonderful technical prowess is on full display. The insanely detailed sets that the two friends are journeying through. The hundreds of extras, the trenches, the craters, the desolation, the madness that is captured so beautifully. But then this style continues over the really fragile emotional moments. I was questioning myself in those slower scenes, where 1917 is really trying to speak to your heart. ‘Why am I not misty eyed? Have I grown cold? Is it all too overwhelming?’
After really thinking about it, I believe it was the film style that was enough of a distraction just at the wrong time. Showing off a technical aspect with your camera doesn’t mix well with a hyper emotional and sensitive moment. I think that’s what happened to me. I’d love to ask the question with anyone reading this, ‘did you experience this too?’
It’s a point that for me, stops me from giving it a perfect mark. The acting was solid, the story simple but clean. I am absolutely glad I saw it on the big screen as there were moments of awe that a big screen takes full advantage of. The score too, was glorious. The biggest emotional response I had was when a particular piece soared during a night escape of a ruined city. I’ll go back and see 1917 again just for that 5 minute sequence again.
As I said in the beginning the benchmark had been set by Dunkirk for a movie like this. And I thought we were solidly on track to reset it again. But for me it just fell a little short in the story and the emotional impact departments.
I hope I haven’t put you off from seeing it. Because it is a great film. It’s so good I’m holding it up to what I believe to be a perfect standard. Because it has earned that level of scrutiny. It’s a beautiful vision of something terrible. A glorious depiction of a nightmare that captured every ordinary person like you and me.
1917 does that important war movie job of displaying this dual madness humanity finds itself toying with from time to time in its history. Or maybe it never stops. It’s just a reflection of the way we all are, all the time: a crazy mixed up conglomeration of beauty and horror.