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Modern Warfare

"1917" depicts a gorgeous hell



Is war supposed to feel this fun? I mean, I get it, it's 2020 and special effects are better than they've ever been. We have the ability to make CGI look about as real as life, so movies are only going to get more visceral as technology raises to meet storytelling. Violence is just gonna keep looking more and more exciting.

It's funny because we're coming off a year in which Martin Scorsese raised the hackles of nerds for saying that Marvel movies aren't truly cinema because they're basically theme park rides—yet "1917" feels like a War Rollercoaster Ride smashed together with a video game, but with awards prestige.

Sam Mendes sure knows how to make war look beautiful. - PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSAL
  • Photo courtesy Universal
  • Sam Mendes sure knows how to make war look beautiful.

On a purely technical level, "1917" is a jaw-dropping feat of the imagination filled with some of the most complex filmmaking in the history of the medium. Director Sam Mendes wants to put audiences solidly in the boots of his protagonists, which he does by hiding most of the cuts in the film. The entire thing feels like a real-time odyssey into the depths of war and violence.

The film "1917" tells the story of two young British soldiers, named Schofield and Blake, who have to hand-deliver a message to a regiment (which includes Blake's brother) that's about to walk into an ambush set up by German forces. The entirety of the film is these two men traversing a war-torn France while trying not to die, leaving the audience to truly feel like they are along for the ride.

There's nothing in "1917" that carries more depth than a college kid shaking their head wistfully and lamenting that war is chaos, but it's such pure cinematic entertainment that it's hard to complain. Mendes has expertly choreographed this movie down to the millisecond, and it's heart pounding to witness—but does that mean it's any less silly than "Spider-Man" or "Thor?" I realize the subject matter is much more serious than Peter Parker going on a school trip, but does the elegantly intense execution of a war movie with no cuts elevate it or bring it down to a goofier level?

The conceit of having no visible cuts makes for an incredibly intense ride, no doubt, but I'm not sure it emphasized the horrors of war in the way that Mendes intended. Yes, the violence is visceral and horrible, but it's always impersonal in the same way as a "Call of Duty" or "Modern Warfare" game moves the player past the carnage to get to the next area.

Don't get me wrong, "1917" is one hell of a movie and will age beautifully. I guarantee it will sit snugly next to "Saving Private Ryan" and "The Thin Red Line" as an example of what modern war movies can do to exemplify the genre. But we're kidding ourselves if we think it's somehow more "adult" than "The Avengers" or somehow more award-worthy. At the end of the day, it's all still making explosions look fun, regardless of the subject matter.

Dir. Sam Mendes
Grade: A-
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, Sisters Movie House, Redmond Cinema

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