Released: December 25, 2019.
Trailer: 2 minutes 30 seconds.
Running Time: 1 hour, 59 minutes.
Rated: R for violence, disturbing images, and language
And now for something completely different.
For the first time, Theater Colorado is reviewing a film, namely 1917, the World War I story nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and the winner of 3 Oscars (Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects);
I’m adding 1917 to the mix here because my theater reviews will be sporadic. Movies are much more accessible to a large audience, and I’d like to reach more readers with relevant content on Theater Colorado.
I grew up in an era of World War II movies, featuring mostly patriotic themes and glamorizing war. John Wayne was in most of the ones I remember; Back to Bataan, Flying Leathernecks, and the like. The Americans were the brave heroes; the Germans and Japanese were the bad guys. Violence was more implicit than explicit.
World War I films have been fairly rare in my experience, with the possible exception of
Warhorse (2011). 1917 is not just one of those rare films about the “war to end all wars”, but, in my view, the most realistic and important war film since Saving Private Ryan.
The first 30 minutes of Steven Spielberg’s 1998 Saving Private Ryan may still be the most disturbing combat footage ever. It is a graphic demonstration of the chaos of war and random, instantaneous death in battle. Until seeing Saving Private Ryan, I had harbored a glorified vision of combat. Spielberg showed us an ugly reality that I will never forget. 1917 is not just 30 minutes, but nearly two hours of intense, disturbing, edge of your seat combat. It will haunt me just as Saving Private Ryan has.
As the film opens, we get a long shot of a peaceful meadow. The camera zooms back from the meadow, and we meet two Lance Corporals, known best by their last names, Blake (played by Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George Mackay). They are ordered to report to their commander for orders, where they are tasked with a suicide mission. They are to cross enemy lines through “no man’s land” to warn other British units to call off an attack planned for the next day. British intelligence has learned that the German army laid a trap for the1,600 attacking soldiers. The attack will be a massacre. No one really thinks Blake and Schofield will survive the first 10 yards, much less complete the mission, but they somewhat reluctantly follow their orders. Blake, we learn, has been picked for the mission because his brother will be among the 1,600 victims of the German trap.
|(R) George Mackay (Schofield) and (L) Dean-Charles Chapman|
The trek through the combat zone is indeed a nightmare; the courage of Blake and Schofield is utterly overwhelming. Faced with certain death at literally every step, the Lance Corporals resist, persist, and dare to move on against the longest of odds. As to whether they are successful, you’ll have to see for yourself.
Director Sam Mendes has done Spielberg one better. He shot 1917 in one continuous take…or at least mostly in one take, with some editing magic. The effect is to give the film a “first person” perspective. You follow the the story as if you’re there in real time, seeing what the actors see, hearing what the actors hear, and walking miles in their shoes. Needless to say, it’s damn scary to be walking in those shoes.
Some movies are entertaining. Others teach us life lessons. 1917 is the latter. We too often take for granted the suffering and sacrifice of the young men and women who volunteer to put their lives on the line. 1917 won’t let you take that sacrifice for granted. Victory is not won by the generals in the large battles. It’s won by the foot soldiers, the sailors, and the airmen who achieve small victories at great personal cost in their own personal war. Those small victories won by individual men and women are what wins the larger battle.
Without being preachy, 1917 will give you pause about the purpose and value of war. The film doesn't take sides, but it's difficult to justify the carnage even on the small scale of a couple of days in the lives of two Lance Corporals. Regardless of the outcome of any war, the losses far outweigh the political gains that may be won. It is axiomatic that some wars are inevitable and necessary, but that does not diminish the cost in lives lost and lives forever changed.
|American Cemetery, May, 2015. |
Photo Credit: Bill Wheeler
I stood in the American Cemetery in Normandy, and I stood at ground zero in both Nagasaki and New York City. These are places where the cost of war is undeniable. 1917 took me back to those moments when I was forced to acknowledge the state sanctioned mass murder we call war. I don’t know if 1917 should have won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2019. I didn’t see very many of the other nominees. But I do know it’s the best film I've seen in a very long time.
|Ground Zero, Nagasaki. February, 2010.|
Photo credit: Bill Wheeler
Some movies look great on a large television. Other movies, however, look best when seen on a huge screen in a darkened theater permeated with the scent of popcorn. 1917 is one of those movies.
There are many ways to recognize the sacrifice and service our veterans. Don't hesitate to do so if you can.
Working for peace is a noble if lost cause. The effort is worthwhile even if the results are meager.
Photo Credit: IMDB.com, Bill Wheeler
Director: Sam Mendes
Written by: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
PARTIAL LIST OF CAST (see full list here):
Lance Corporal Blake: Dean-Charles Chapman
Lance Corporal Schofield: George MacKay
Sergeant Sanders: Daniel May
General Erinmore: Colin Firth