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They Shall Not Grow Dull

1917-movie-review-george-mackay
François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

MOVIE REVIEW
1917 (2019)

Alfred Hitchcock pulled it off in 1948 with “Rope.” Regarding “1917,” Paul Schrader wrote on Facebook: “The ‘one shot film’ is no longer an innovation. It has its own Wikipedia entry. The question is no longer ‘how did they do that shot?’ but ‘why did they do that shot?’ ”

Given Sam Mendes’s theater background, your guess is as good as mine. The film appears to be impeccably blocked, with actors, animals, planes, explosives and special effects hitting their marks right on cue. It’s quite a massive undertaking given its scale and two-hour runtime.

What promises to be “Saving Private Ryan” meets, um, “Climax” unwittingly plays out like some World War I-set video game à la “Verdun.” We are mostly observing behind the helmets of Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) as they navigate, jump, shoot, dodge bullets and collect milk – because a hungry baby awaits later in the narrative. In a vacuum, “1917” would be a brilliant realization from Mr. Mendes, with his chops as a theater director. But with enough World War I-set video games to necessitate their own Wikipedia entry as well, it just looks like one of many.

By contrast, Gaspar Noé’s “Climax” and Bi Gan’s 3-D one-shot embedded in the last reel of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” do achieve theatricality where "1917” fails. The one-shot gimmick of “1917” is still impressive, if your idea of a good time is to figure out how they made it work. Otherwise, the script by Mr. Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns is paint-by-numbers with the numbers shuffled. In due time, everything we expect to take place does, if not in the exact order anticipated.

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