Long Run-On Sentence by: Anthony Florez
Writing about the film 1917 and it’s single-take Oscar-bait amazingness is like writing about a rollercoaster ride in the sense that it’s something that should be experienced rather than described, and my personal take on this film is — be prepared — going to feel like a damn rollercoaster ride (you were warned!) … most reviews I’ve read seem to focus mostly on the technical wonders, of which there are many achievements that, just taken on their own, would make for a spectacular movie going experience — BUT combined together, as this film is, into what appears to be a single continuous take, elevates that experience into something breathtaking, operating with what is essentially a shoe-string thin plot… i.e. two men set off to save a company of soldiers walking into an ambush, it succeeds in showing off both the incredible scale of the first world war as well as the innocence and humanity of the men who fought it, all without losing sight of every single detail, down to the belt buckles, the vests, the equipment, every aspect of the picture appears to be intimately researched, every object seems to have a story and every frame, as they say, is a painting with all credit due to the great Roger Deakins, a man who will go down in cinema history as a legend, who somehow manages to capture both the serenity of the French countryside and the epic violence with equal gravity and reverence, all while transitioning from light to dark, from clear to violent, shrapnel filled skies……and this is where he demonstrates what kind of a master he is; he makes it look easy, he hides his cuts between different scenes so well that unless a canny viewer is actually making the effort to look for them after the first 30 minutes or so, they forget they are even happening and instead are drawn into this world from a hundred years ago and just believes every second of it… with all due credit going to the captain of the ship, Sam Mendes, who reportedly based the story on some of the anecdotes shared with him by his grandfather, a veteran of the unfortunately named War to End All Wars, a war that is depicted with far more rarity than the subsequent ‘sexier’ World War II, which had all the things the first did… not such as charismatic leaders, great orators, and a true undeniable evil subject that is potentially easier to depict than the Lovecraftian horror of trench warfare, abattoirs where the stench of death and disease was so overwhelming that men went mad from the experience and never recovered, so their stories are harder to tell, harder to entice a casual audience in on a summer afternoon which is all the more reason for these stories to be told……in films like Gallipoli, and Paths of Glory, and here, 1917, released just in time for Oscar season, will undoubtedly take home some hardware, and while it may not have the stylistic panache of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood or the incredible pedigree of The Irishman, it’s a human story, a small cross-section of a conflict so great that there are still fields of artillery shells to this day where the Allied Expeditionary Forces and the Axis powers fought to a standstill……where the advancement of machine gun technology essentially rendered the great battlefield charges of the previous century as utterly outdated and obsolete, with the common soldier on the ground paying the price in wave after wave of gallant attacks, attacks that stubbornly repeated in greater and greater scale only for the opposing force to enact the same strategy in the other direction months later only for the supreme commanders on both sides to decide on what became known as a war of attrition, where either side would simply try to wear down the other until one one either gave up or starved to death, with the latter being the more common result and these nightmare conditions were where a young Adolf Hitler would serve and be wounded by mustard gas, an experience that he found so horrifying that he forbid its use in his own future attempt at world domination……however he also saw the utility of one war technology that had just not caught up in time to be a effective or reliable in The Great War but would be used to great effect in the follow up, and that technology was the simple tank, with its earlier variants being huge, lumbering, under-powered behemoths whose mechanical failings and inability to traverse complex or muddy terrain rendered them largely useless in turning the tide of battle, but the experiences on the front line gave the future Fuhrer of Nazi Germany the inspiration to create a fast, accurate, effective mobile tank core that functioned both as a support to conventional ground forces and as an offensive unit on their own, making events like the Battle of France lightning quick engagements that devastated the Allied Forces with their tenacity and effectiveness, unlike engagements in the First World War such as the Battle of the Somme, a fight that went on for 140 days and caused nearly a million casualties on either side, which was only one of many such struggles in a cataclysmic war that was fought over something as simple as a political assassination in a small, central European country and a series of outdated, posturing alliances between the Great Powers that dragged the entire world into conflict………..and (!) it’s important to remember in times like these what the terror of war really is, without the jingoism and the Michael Bay-ified sterilized violence and slow motion light-filtered cameras, that it ultimately is the young men and women who had no voice or agency in deciding their fate, no opinion or knowledge of the real machinations that plucked them out of the lives they had every right to live, with the luckiest being the ones that didn’t live on with the scars and the trauma of that time and place, and those of us even more fortunate to live on in a society they saved by virtue of their courage and duty; we ought be the ones doing the remembering, and as often as it takes in order to prevent those kinds of grievous tragedies, a loss of our collective humanity, from ever happening again.