1917: Is It Worth Ten Oscars?
January 17, 2020
January is not a great time for movies, but if you dig through the mediocre horror films and unimaginative kids films, you might find and Oscar contender after digging through all that horse manure. One such film this year is “1917”, a WWI film directed by Sam Mendes, the man behind the 1999 Best Picture winner “American Beauty”. And given that this film is up for ten Academy Awards, it’s possible that Mendes has been able to make lightning strike twice at the Academy. But, the question still remains, is it any good? Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s what I’m for. And I think that “1917” is a visually stunning, phenomenally shot, incredible sounding, powerful war movie that I imagine will go down as one of the best remembered and beloved war films of the 2010’s, alongside Dunkirk. But I did feel that the film’s story was a tad bit too basic, with not quite enough amazing moments or plot twists to make the film stand out as anything incredible. It’s a good film, in my opinion, but not quite a great one.
First, let’s address the positive aspects of the film. Like so many have said before me, the cinematography, direction, and production design are absolutely phenomenal. The fact that a film this well-crafted was made in such a short period of time is genuinely flooring. For the unfamiliar, “1917” is shot to make it seem as if the entire film is being made in two takes, similar to the Best Picture winner “Birdman” from five years ago. In reality, it isn’t, but the commitment is more than admirable. What I think is even more commendable, beyond the experimental cinematography, is just how good a lot of the direction is. There are several breathtaking shots: some of which you’ve seen in the trailers, but many of which really do have to be seen to believe. And while many of these sets do look like sets, they are incredibly immersive. One does feel as if they are inside one a British trench in Northern France, or walking through the potholes and barbed wire of No Man’s Land, or wandering through a destroyed French village. It’s all stellary presented.
That having been said, I do think that a film with this impressive of a presentation could have afforded a better story. Not that it’s bad. Our two characters, while difficult to understand at points (they both have very thick British accents, and it often isn’t exactly clear what they were saying) do have a good dynamic, and by the end, I did find myself caring for both of them, but the actual plot beats were fairly predictable, and aside for one moment in the middle of the film, there wasn’t anything I was all that shocked by.. On top of that, if you’re going to get a big actor like Benedict Cumberbach, it would make sense to have him appear in the movie for more than one scene at the very end. I don’t know, that just seems like a wasted opportunity.
Some of that is nitpicking, I will admit. 1917, while not the best war film ever made, is still an incredibly well-shot, well-directed, well-produced piece, and I would recommend it to those interested in war films, history films, or films in general. I’m thinking a solid 7/10, and definitely a recommendation. The year 1917 may be long gone, but I get the feeling that this film will be sticking around for a long time.