I think Sam Mendes is a great director. Revolutionary Road, The Road To Perdition and American Beauty are all fine films. I was, therefore, looking forward to seeing 1917, which has been getting great reviews and recently won a Golden Globe.
Unfortunately, I didn’t count on my sleeping “problem” affecting any enjoyment. For over 18 months, I’ve been experiencing insomnia. Until recently, this hasn’t impinged on my movie viewing activities. But only 10 minutes into 1917 and I was nodding off – even snoring. (Thankfully, no one was sitting nearby.)
I can tell you a few things about the first half of the movie. Tommen Baratheon (Dean Charles-Chapman) dies, but not by jumping from the Red Keep. And Robb Stark (Richard Madden) doesn’t die – there was no Red Wedding. I can tell you that Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch all appear briefly, but Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent and Martin Freeman do not. There were lots of explosions, lots of running and lots of hiding, but the rest was a fuzzy blur.
Luckily, I was able to rouse myself into consciousness for the second half of the movie. After the loss of Tommen, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) is left on his own to deliver an urgent message to a distant Colonel. Along the way he encounters a sniper, a village in flames, a woman in hiding with an orphaned child, and a raging river (think The Revenant). Schofield climbs out of the river over the swollen bodies of dead soldiers.
Every one of these sequences is brilliantly filmed (cinematographer Roger Deakins), directed and acted. Schofield’s travels through the ruined village are particularly hellish. As you might have heard, the film has been edited as if one long take, which really takes you into the soldier’s experience and heightens reality.
Having finally and luckily found the command post in question, Lance Corporal Schofield then has to deal with obstructive and disbelieving superiors, who are already in the process of commencing the attack Schoefield has been tasked to prevent. His message is finally presented to the commander, Colonel MacKenzie, (Sherlock), who reluctantly accepts the orders, stops the attack, then unceremoniously tells Lance Corporal Schoefield to “fuck off”.
There are no medals, heroic chants or speeches of gratitude for Schoefield. Exhausted and hungry, he wanders into a nearby field, leans back against a tree, and sifts through photographs of his family.
I recommend 1917. But see it with both eyes open.