Author Topic: 1917  (Read 60 times)

Offline perc2100

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1917
« on: January 15, 2020, 06:52:53 PM »
I love a good continuous, long take.  Any film nerd can give you a dissertation on their favorite steady-cam or long tracking shot: GOODFELLAS Copa scene; THE PLAYER or BOOGIE NIGHTS opening shot; the traffic jam from WEEKEND.  Some of the GOAT directors have made entire movies out of (seemingly) one-take tracking shots.  Hitch did it wonderfully with ROPE, and of course there's the Best Picture-winning BIRDMAN.  RUSSIAN ARK is an actual one-take film: one 90+ minute shot: filmed in only one day.

1917 is a film that takes place over less than 24 hours in war-torn World War 1 battlefields: from the British front line trenches through a decimated Northern France and up to a British army offensive about to strike what they think is a weakened, retreating German military.  Two corporals are tasked with delivering a vital message to the battalions about to begin the attack: stop - the Germans have set a trap that will lead to 1,600 British deaths.
Oh, and to add to the drama/immediacy of the mission, one of the corporal's older brother is a Lieutenant with the Battalion about to march to his death.

The premise doesn't feel unique, and neither do the story beats.  The pair of non-commissioned troops are a good match, one cautious and weary, the other talkative and anxious to deliver the message.  But the film insn't interested in internal conflicts between the lads (or the internal conflict that may be "holy eff why am I risking my life for this crazy mission?!").

The film only cares about external strife, with the _real_ star of the film Director of Photographer Roger Deakins.

Deakins shoots the Sam Mendes directed film to feel like one continuous shoot, giving us mainly the perspective of one of the corporals, Corporal Schofield.  The film rarely leaves his 'side,' and we feel all of the action (and mainly tension) from his perspective.  It's hard not to admire the hell out of how well Mendes and Deakins accomplish the visceral feeling of experiencing WWI as close as any of us will come (or want to come) to it.
Maybe that makes 1917 the best video game movie ever (or at least it feels at times like a WWI FPS video game at times)?

While the direction is amazing, the film also looks impeccable.  Deakins is maybe the best in his profession (and I may be way understating is expertise), and he contrasts drab war fields with orange blazes.  The production design is incredible, especially when one takes a second to think about how much time was spent designing, constructing, and then 'dressing' distressed walls, barns, fields of dead horses, streams of bodies floating in a river, etc.

And there lies my problem with the film.  The story or characters aren't compelling enough where one is 100% immersed in the film, and instead takes minutes to marvel at the scenery.  It's hard not to think this film is merely an exercise for the two masters behind the camera, wondering if the "I want to make a film that feels like one continuous take" mindset is more of a "selfish" exercise for the director instead an aesthetic that organically goes with the story.  I think the action scenes, and some of the more perilous-feeling scenes (such as the corporals traversing through dark German trenches) are amazingly served with the long tracking shot formula.  It's undeniable I felt the tension of the moment at least partially because of the eeriness of the long shots "walking" with the soldiers, or running from enemy fire with our two corporals.
But I wonder if some of the quieter moments could've been more effective with cuts?  Some directors use cuts incredibly well.  Edgar Wright is the MASTER of dictating story beats and reactions with mere cutting style, particularly for comic effect.  I wonder if contrasting moods via shooting styles would've made the entire film feel even more dramatic (for example, watch CHRONICLE, a film that goes from a "found-footage" type of homemade footage to regular cinematic shooting once the action kicks up in the 3rd act: that change in style enhances BOTH moods/styles of the film).
I mean, if for no other reason, there isn't much doubt about what happens to our main characters (particularly Schofield), since the film is constructed to be completely from his perspective.  When you're confident he'll at the very least reach the finish line, a bit of that tension is negated.  I kept waiting for something more as far as story was concerned, and the movie never seemed interested in exploring much beyond "run from bullets; hide while recovering; move one; repeat."

I kind of hate how much I think more about the form and presentation of a film, instead of the actual story or characters.  As a Quentin Tarantino fan, I'm certainly not going to radically negate a film for being all style with little substance (as one might argue his latest, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, one of my favorite movies of 2019, is all style and no substance story-wise).  There is a lot to like with this film that is made impeccably.  But in the end, I walked away thinking much more about long-shots and cinematography than I cared about the characters or story in the end.

Offline TardisMom

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Re: 1917
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2020, 07:48:05 AM »
I had NO desire to see this, but I see all the Oscar nominated films and thus had to go.  I REALLY liked it. And I enjoyed seeing the "big name stars" pop up throughout the film, especially the last one. 
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I always enjoy reading your reviews, keep 'em coming!  :)

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Re: 1917
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