Showered with somewhat more praise than it rightfully deserves, including Golden Globe Awards for Best Director (Sam Mendes) and Best Picture, as well as 10 Oscar nominations, ”1917” (Universal) is surprisingly disappointing. In these days when war looms heavy on a daily basis in Trumpworld, a movie such as “Jojo Rabbit” actually has a more meaningful anti-war message. [Potential spoilers ahead.]
Filmed in one shot (kudos to Mendes, I suppose), “1917” begins on April 6, the same day the United States officially entered World War I. Roused from a brief nap, British soldiers Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are summoned to the tent of General Erinmore (Colin Firth) in the trenches. On the way they talk about the lack of food, mail from home, how they’re supposed to be home by Christmas, and that “the Huns are up to something”.
The Huns are indeed up to something. Blake and Schofield are tasked with delivering a handwritten message from Erinmore to Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), a direct order to call off a plan to come face to face with the German army which is a trap and will lead to the massacre of 1600 British soldiers. Adding even more significance to the mission is that Blake’s older brother, Joe (Richard Madden), a lieutenant, is among the men whose lives hang in the balance.
After a quick and unpleasant meeting with Lieutenant Leslie (out actor Andrew Scott), where they are given a sort of road map to the frontlines and a flare gun, they are on their merry and scary way. On route they encounter dead horses, barbed wire, mud, human corpses, cat-sized rats, trip wires, abandoned bunkers and such rotten spoils of war. An encounter with a German pilot, whom they are kind enough to rescue after his plane crashes into a barn, results in the stabbing and tragic death of Blake.
Moments later, Schofield is discovered by a nearby platoon of British soldiers and is able to move forward with duty. On his own, he unbelievably survives a series of brutal attacks and finally makes it to his destination, just as the orders to advance are about to be given by the commanding officers.
Notice that “1917” didn’t get any acting nods. That’s because each and every performance is just this side of dreadful, including lead actors MacKay (who was so good in the gay-themed movie “Pride”) and Dean-Charles Chapman, as well as scenery chomping turns by Firth, Cumberbatch, and unfortunately Scott. Perhaps the best thing that can be said about “1917” is that it’s less than two hours in length.
Rating: an overly generous C