/ t63 /
dir. by Sam Mendes
premiered 2019
written 11 nov 2023

105 years after Armistice Day, there is something still so absolutely captivating about the first World War; in popular consciousness, it seems to have been far surpassed by what followed in its aftermath, despite its wild, overlapping, contradictory, and truly insane motives behind the powers that be at the time. Part of that captivating interest in the war though, in part, is lost due to the absurd disconnect between those aristocratic quarrels and the lives of their underclasses; that primary historical context and overarching plot is not what the lives of those fighting were ever like. And that part of 1917's story is what makes it an overall success.

In truth, its framework is very simple, this hero's journey abruptly cut in the middle, then overtaken by the furious, illogical, but immensely human responsibility the second lead takes up the mantle for. Those two young corporals Blake and Schofield, respectively, truly don't develop much outside of their starting points, despite that immense task—yet in the grand scheme of their mission and the film's objective, they didn't need to. Their story is well-set and executed quite well enough that the lack of severe shifts in the story, broken up only by the latter's emotional progress in getting to the front line, is less of a flaw and more of an unavoidable part of the journey.

Its utterly ridiculous climax is, while inane from a lifelike standpoint, still represents this unyielding valiance that refuses to falter; its purpose is most of the appeal, the final stride in a hopeless situation, framed in such an over-the-top way that it feels like an animation studio's influence taking over, an unrealistic representation of an invincible spirit.

The cleverly masked unbroken camera shots, at this point, are the film's selling point—and whilst some of their movements and techniques hint at being its sole focus, overshadowing even the attempt at a more rock-steady version of itself, it still undoubtedly works well for the purpose of the sporadic, human-centered plot. No doubt it is a technical feat, though its effectiveness is still lightly hindered by that drive to trim the film's purpose down to fit into the style's box.

Sincerely, the film is genuinely affecting through its knockout surprises in its otherwise stable storyline, even if in a more critical light on closer viewings it shows its hand just a bit less adequately. In essence, it may to some be seen as a contrived object, a camera shot extended to the length of a feature—yet in its place, as a readable and sympathetic campaign, exploring a historically respecting account of a corporal pair on a horrific backdrop, it serves its purpose.

It is a fiction of mortality, barring the political manoeuvres that define the historical account; in that way it may be ignorant, or in a kinder way to the people most important to that history, reverential. It is hard to tell, but the film speaks for itself as a simply self-effacing story, with most of its attention held within its leads, their deeply personal musings, and the hero's quest not as a reality, but as a representation of some spiritual drive, leaving matter to fall to the wayside.

flat 3 / 5
created by hand, by nat:3

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