This combat drama set in the trenches of WWI tells the story of two messengers sent on a nearly impossible mission to the front line in an attempt to abort a disastrous attack.  Rarely if ever have the realities of that war on the ground been so explicitly portrayed.  And the innovative “one-take” format creates its own drama, pushing the two men forward from one horrible obstacle to the next.

The film will probably win a well-deserved Oscar for cinematography. It might also win best picture, as everybody’s safe second choice.

And yet it left me cold.  The main characters had no scripted backstory (and the actors lacked the talent to suggest one).  So there was little emotional connection when bad stuff happened – or even when something good did.

It was also, in this day and age, a bit surprising to see every one of the German soldiers portrayed as heartless monsters.  In any war, some soldiers behave better than others.  Atrocities occur, but they are rarely committed 100% by one side.  Without any nuance in the portrayal of the enemy, you might as well be showing a video game with zombies.  What you’re left with is horror porn, not a film with anything serious to say about the horrors of war.

The 1981 movie Gallipoli , directed by Australian director Peter Weir and featuring a very young Mel Gibson in his first major role, told a similar story of two young messengers on a doomed mission.  I’m sure the cinematography wasn’t as good.  But it was a better movie.

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