MOVIE BUFF-ET: Mendes’ ‘1917’ like watching a video game journey through hell

Universal Pictures

Expertly crafted and beautifully shot, the latest effort by writer-director Sam Mendes, “1917,” can only be described as a two-hour journey through the hell that was World War I.

The film tells the story of two WWI British soldiers given a nearly impossible task of traveling through “no-man’s land” to a deliver an important message to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment to call off their impending attack because they are about to storm into a German ambush.

Lance Cpl. Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) is given the task because his brother Lt. Joseph Blake (Richard Madden) is a member of the 2nd Battalion. The thought is he will try harder to accomplish what amounts to a suicide mission in hope of saving his brother.

Before knowing what the task is, Blake is told to choose a partner and he picks his best friend Lance Cpl. William Schofield (George McKay) to accompany him.

And here the journey through the nightmare that was World War I begins in graphic detail. Shot in long takes by Roger Deakins, who is considered one of the very finest cinematographers if not the finest cinematographers in the business, the film is edited by Lee Smith in such a way that the elaborately choreographed movie feels like it was completed with one shot.

You feel like you are in the middle of the action along with Blake and Schofield as the movie depicts every horror you’ve ever read about the trench warfare waged in “The War to End All Wars” other than a poison gassing. The film even depicts a fateful dog fight between a German plane and two Allied planes.

The movie, which won a Golden Globe for Best Drama last Sunday, has been highly praised by critics and is expected to be nominated for an Academy Award. Buzz is that “1917” is a strong contender to actually win the award.

That may be the case, but I found that despite a compelling setup, the story lacks heart, and the one-shot effect gave me the feeling I was watching a video game — admittedly a beautifully shot video game — rather than a movie.

McKay comes off rather dry as Schofield. Chapman has a bit more charisma as Blake, but their circumstances in the film seems to overwhelm their performances. That could have been what Medes was going for, but if so, it was a weak choice.

While the movie is decidedly not bad, it pales in comparison to recent war movies like Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” or Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge.”

The movie is better-crafted than “Midway,” which came and went at the box office rather quickly last November, but I’d probably sit through it again before I’d watch “1917” for a second time.

Actually, I’d revisit a truly classic war picture rather than spend any more time on either of the newer releases.

(R) 1 hr. 59 min.
Grade: C+

New In Local Movie Theaters

  • 1917(R) 1 hr. 59 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Rogers Towne, Bentonville Skylight
  • Just Mercy(PG-13) 2 hr. 17 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills
  • Underwater(PG-13) 1 hr. 35 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle Hills
  • Like a Boss(R) 1 hr. 23 min. (watch trailer)
    Playing at: AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnacle Hills

Classic Corner – Rashomon

Toshiro Mifune and Machiko Kyo in Rashomon

“Rashomon is the classic 1950 cinematic allegory that first brought Japanese director Akira Kurosawa to international attention. Turner Classic Movies is airing the story of a bandit who rapes a samurai’s wife and then kills him at 7 p.m. (Central) Saturday.

The highly inventive movie borrows its plot from the 1922 short story “In a Grove” by Japanese author Ry?nosuke N?hara that tells the story of the rape and murder through the widely varying and quite contradictory points of view of four characters — the bandit, the deceased samurai (through a medium), the wife, and a woodcutter, who seems to be the least biased, but also has a secret or two that he is keeping.

The movie is known for the inventive shots that Kurosawa used to tell the story that offer the audience clues to the truth despite the misleading point of views each of the key character describe. The film was the first collaboration between Kurosawa and star Toshiro Mifune.

The movie itself is a master class on how to tell a story on film and is a true eye opener for those who’ve not watched and enjoyed Kurosawa’s work.

It might seem the story structure is cliched today with many films, TV programs, and short stories borrowing the structure for its own. However, most of those pale in comparison to Kurosawa’s film, which cagily never tells you which version — if any of them — are true.