Saturday, February 8, 2020

1917 review

1917 is a simple film about two British soldiers during World War I and yet it's revolutionary. In contemporary filmmaking, the directors and editors use a technique called fast cutting. It consists of cutting shots of a scene to 3 seconds or less. And if you read my blog, you know that I really hate it.

Fast cutting reduces film to appeal to an attention deficit audience. It's for one that grew up with commercials and music video. Many times it turns movies into a confusing mess as action is hard to follow. Too often it's used to convey action rather than a director taking the time to choreograph the shots. These are the reasons I hate it so much. In 1917 is a totally different take on filmmaking and film editing. Director and writer Sam Mendes uses long shots, tracking shots and smart editing to create a movie that follows one British soldier on his journey to save his brother.

1917 takes place during World War I France. British Corporals Thomas Blake (Dean- Charles Chapman) and William Schofield (George MacKay) are ordered to cross enemy territory to deliver a message to a battalion to halt an advance as they are walking into a trap. It's personal for Blake who has a brother in the battalion. The journey is a hellscape of death, destruction and an occasional respite of humanity.

Dean Charles Chapman and Goeorge MacKay may be unknowns but they turn in sincere, and realistic portrayals. The other more famous  actors, Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott and Colin Firth are good but their parts are so small that they feel like cameos. That's okay since the film is about the journey of the two corporals.

Mendes' film is an anti-war war movie like Saving Private Ryan. (1998) The difference is 1917 is more of a one man's view of war. You won't see big armies fighting each other in big action set pieces. It's a personal  journey across dead bodies, animals, destruction and death to not kill but to save lives. And of killing, 1917 makes it intimate. The combat is at times  hand to hand.

I thought the way the camera followed Schofield gave us an almost a first person look at war. You got a "you are there" feel without the gimmick of first person camera shots. The result is tense and riveting. You are not going to be bored by this film.

1917 is a radically filmed movie with a goal to make it look like one shot. The effect is compelling. I hope that future filmmakers will consider less fast cutting and use technology to create movies with longer scenes that will create less confusion. The grade is A.

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