Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
There’s plenty to appreciate in director Sam Mendes’ “1917,” but it doesn’t amount to much as a movie. The one-shot scheme is good for showing soldiers making their way through trenches and over battlefields. Tracking shots add an element of time to movies, which in turn generates suspense; and Mendes and his team do a nice job of keeping the frame filled with arresting visual details. These scenes are engrossing in a primitive way; we feel compelled to stay invested in them, the way a child might feel compelled to persist in unrolling an illustrated scroll. What will be revealed by the next roll? In dialog scenes, or really in any scene that wouldn’t likely be done as a tracking shot, or a series of tracking shots, in any movie, the technique is a distraction; we can feel Mendes trying to think his way around the gimmick, and at that point it’s hard not to wonder about the point of it. There’s no reason to impose this limitation on a movie. Because the technique (really a faux technique, because there’s a fair amount of computer trickery) turns movies into things akin to first-person shooters, and limits expressiveness by doing away with traditional editing, some might call it anti-cinematic. It may also be dumb: It strikes me as ludicrous to do a Griffith-style race-against-time narrative while depriving yourself of cross-cutting. Technical stuff aside, there’s little to invest in. The story is as basic as they come and serves merely to put the spectacle in motion. It’s the “Mad Max: Fury Road” of war movies. Also of note: This is the only WWI movie I can think of (other than fantasy things like “Wonder Woman”) that treats the Germans of the era as cartoon baddies. We’ve inherited an estimable tradition of humanistic WWI movies. Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns seem unaware of it.