January 13th, 2020

At the theatre I went out with my youngest son to go check out 1917.  Newly minted with a Golden Globe for Best Picture and also Best Director for Sam Mendes.   I have been meaning to see this since checking out the trailers.   I have a fascination for war pictures, especially when they are done well.   The buzz on this one was that it was all done, seemingly, in “one shot”; no breaks, one continuous shot from beginning to end as the characters go on their journey.  The set up is a simple one and is explained in the trailer with Colin Firth as a General ordering two young men to travel from where they currently are to another Division of British soldiers who are heading into a trap from the Germans where they will be wiped out (1600 men, including the one messenger’s older brother).   They must deliver a direct order from the General to cease the attack.  Off they go.

The scenes of the trenches are very effective and how tight the quarters really were.  Our two young soldiers decide to get started straight away.   They journey takes place as you see the ugliness of this war.  Bodies of men and horses, just left out in fields and shelled ponds.   It’s a good thing that there isn’t smell-o-vision.    As they move from place to place different scenarios present themselves and they run into various other people.   I won’t get into the details, since it generally is effectively done.   I feel as though the continuous shot gimmick is exactly that, and the story could be told as effectively with set scenes and traditional cuts and editing.   So rather than take the camera over the shoulder of one character to show the face of another while he speaks, you can just cut from one camera to another.   At the same time, scenes where the characters are walking through ponds, water and mud pits are effective and you wonder where the camera man was to get it.  There are stars in this film, and I won’t name them here (I have to admit to expecting to see Matt Damon along the way – you’ll know why when you see it).   In the end, both youngest son and I really enjoyed this.  There was plenty of suspense.  There were a few surprises and we enjoyed the journey.  I felt as though you got a real sense of the war and how it would have been to be on the front lines.  War is hell.  This one in particular was hell, and the conditions that the average soldier had to live in were deplorable.  They were all so young, as they all have been with young men set to do the deeds of older politicians and generals.   Was this the Best Picture of 2019?   Roger Ebert site didn’t think so, as they gave it just 2 1/2 Stars – the same number of stars that Cats got!!   I don’t think that 2019 was all that strong a year, and I don’t think we will look back upon it and think about all the gems that were released.   In that background, this was one of the better ones.

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