Apart from this core theme, the other praised aspect was Delroy Lindo's performance. Having a character be a veteran visibly dealing with PTSD and grief captivated other reviewers, but the number of ailments given to him seemed over the top. While there were serious aspects to the inner demons that Lindo's character was fighting, being the only member of the main cast to be a Trump supporter sucked dramatic tension from his scenes. You can't have the guy having panic attacks with a bipolar disorder also be the only one supporting Trump. You've pigeonholed the character into being an unstable wreck that shouldn't be taken seriously. Nuance is thrown out the window, and any dramatic choice the actor makes only contributes to the demented psyche the character is portrayed as already having.
One area that everyone seems to agree on is the cinematography. The shot composition is diverse and captures the rural landscape of Vietnam beautifully. Others have pointed out how cinematographer Newton Sigel has previously worked on documentaries, but fail to mention those were all shot before 1995. His contemporary work includes movies like Bohemian Rhapsody, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Jack the Giant Slayer. While I wasn't continually impressed with the framing and picture, there were definite standout moments that earned the recognition that he is getting.
When it comes to the story of Da 5 Bloods, it combines a couple of different genres. At the center is a group of veterans reminiscing on the past and honoring one of their fallen friends. On the periphery, is the treasure hunting action movie that causes the conflict. The setup has the rekindling of a long friendship and establishing characters as they start their trip. Along their journey, they meet other characters and learn more about each other. To emphasize their bond, flashbacks of the group as a platoon during the Vietnam war are inner cut. These sections were shot on film and in a square-like aspect ratio. This presentation does a lot to sell the time period and mood of the clips, making them a welcome cutaway from the rest of the scenes.
For me, the entire plot was entirely predictable. I was never surprised or caught off guard like other reviewers and wholeheartedly refute the idea that there was a twist. If anything, there were narrative threads that were created and never finished. Some elements came out of nowhere and were never resolved. The setup was so transparent that I can't believe anyone was surprised by how events unfolded.
While the production quality of the film is quite high, nothing stood out as exceptional. The story was too pedestrian for me and failed to focus on its central message due to a character choice. I was never drawn into the experience and felt distant from what it was trying to say. A considerable barrier was the music; it was distracting and felt inappropriate at many times. There would be serious moments where a playful and silly score would be used, robbing the scene of the intended tension. An exception to the rule would be the use of a Marvin Gay song that excelled and became the picture's greatest moment for me.
I wish I saw what others are clamoring about. My indifference to this film can be contrasted with my enjoyment of BlacKkKlansman. While that movie felt laser-focused, this was the opposite. There were just too many different things that bothered me or just didn't work. I understand that my experience was in the minority, and since I don't think Da 5 Bloods is bad, I do slightly recommend it. There is enough action and intrigue for a regular audience member to have an enjoyable experience. If you keep an open mind, there is a good enough chance that you will experience the Oscar-caliber film that I missed out on.
RIP Chadwick Boseman
While it might have been Mendes' idea to make the movie in this way, it was Roger Deakins who actually achieved it. 1917 has Deakin's fingerprints all over it as his signature style is on display in every image. His choice to film with natural light sources leads to mesmerizing sequences that have been spoiled in the trailer. If you decide to watch this in the theater, it will be to see his work on a big screen. I say that because other than the incredibly high production value, there isn't much else to look forward to.
1917 fails to capture the human element of war. It does a great job keeping the audience on their toes as the one-shot presentation keeps the tension high. There are moments of fear, exhaustion, and hope, all of which blend thematically with the setting, but none give you the anchor into its characters. I need more than just a goal and a coherent plot to keep me interested. When I said it had tension and all those other things, I lied. It only had those elements for some of the time, as it mostly fell flat for me.
The driving force of the story is for two soldiers to deliver an order that would save many lives. The importance of their mission is blatant but seems to fall on deaf ears as almost everyone they meet doesn't care. That message of indifference seeped through and became the stance I took. While the script tries to give these characters humanizing moments, not much of it stuck. This disconnect comes down to how they were delivered. I could see the gears turning in the background as scenes of tension would be invalidated moments later. When plot points were being set up and then never referenced again, it felt like they were just cheap tricks.
It all comes down to what you appreciate about the art form. I like movies because they tell interesting stories about engaging characters. 1917 doesn't have that but instead offers a project that excels in production. The fancy camera sweeps, tracking shots, and set pieces offer visually stunning sequences that are enviable. While I didn't enjoy the film that much, I can recognize great work when I see it.
Without Roger Deakins, the movie would have been nothing special