A poetic historical film recreating the human tragedy inflicted on little people during World War I.
Taking place in April 1917, Director Sam Mendes’ film follows the journey of two English Lance Corporals as they try to save the lives of 1600 comrades. The soldiers, played in low key fashion by Dean Charles Chapman and George Mackay, have 24 hours to cross enemy lines to deliver their message exposing them to death at every turn.
Some critics have ripped this movie for losing its momentum the longer it lasted. I profoundly disagree. What you see are two of the millions of young men who became human carnage as if they were cattle waiting to be butchered.
This film deserved the rewards it received at the Golden Globes, as well as its multiple Oscar nominations. Our two young Englishmen are decent, average guys who want to survive and return home to families and lovers. On top of that, the cinematography and musical score are compelling beyond description.
During the four years of this war, the Western word betrayed its alleged dedication to uplifting the lives of its citizens. To this day, multiple cemeteries cover parts of Europe filled with thousands of crosses simply reading “Unknown Soldier.”
As I became emotionally attached to Mr. Mendes’ story of guns and mustard gas devouring young men on both sides of this Satanic struggle, I was reminded of other great films covering this conflict. Start with Testament of Youth (2014), where you see Alicia Vikander and Taron Egerton begin their careers as young English citizens whose lives are destroyed when they followed their Government’s call to serve in a “short, glorious war.”
And while no one should ever overlook All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) or Kirk Douglas in Paths of Glory (1957), the little gem Joyeux Noel (2005) will bring a tear to your eyes. Think of a Christmas truce between young German and Allied opponents who share laughter and booze before resuming their orders to kill each other.
As for 1917, let me also note that it is helped by stirring cameo performances from Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch. All three play Allied officers who are forced to swallow their pride as they send young men to an early grave.
Though we are frequently told that mankind is the highest evolved life form on Earth, this film and its predecessors flatly disprove that theory. Then again, most of us understood that long ago.