1917 – review

My initial disappointment at the mediocrity of the performances, and of the script, was tempered by attention to the camerawork and to occasional shifts in the marginal degrees of OK-ness – some parts slightly more than OK, some parts more than slightly less. That passable, impotent, rather underwhelming pattern held until the end of Act Two, which came with a literal bang. From the moment plucky messenger Lance Corporal Schofield got knocked out by a lone rifleman, the entire production collapsed into a succession of farces that left me deeply irritated. It started with director Sam Mendes staging a Skyfall-esque action sequence (which also included a blindsiding art shot and an off-brand Saving Private Ryan knife fight) that bore no relation to the war film he’d spent an hour trying to realize. “Respite” then arrived with an infuriating petite Mère interlude (which also included the most pointless Chekhov’s Gun I’ve ever seen; a ploy that will now be known as Samuel’s Milk). The entire scene, needless to say, should’ve been rejected out of hand. Now in full swing, Sam continued to build with a remarkably ungraceful river-petal piece of phony symbolism – a call-back that was somehow more hackneyed than the story it was alluding to. Could he deliver a fitting finale? The movie-manufactured race against time that anchors the climax isn’t its most cumbersome device, given the music choice that spins going ‘over the top’ as a triumphant moment – there’s a vaguely offensive notion if I ever saw one. Caps the day’s work with a two-dimensional walk-on from Benedict Cumberbatch, confused guff about last men standing, cliché bingo in the parting shot, and a nauseatingly pretentious coda. Impotence and mediocrity look a damn sight better when prospects take a turn for the worse. We should be grateful for what we’ve got.

B-

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