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1917: A Technical And Visual Masterpiece That Some People May Not Love

'1917' just won Best Picture - Drama at the Golden Globes despite the fact it comes out nationwide this weekDid it deserve the love?

During World War I, two British soldiers -- Lance Cpl. Schofield and Lance Cpl. Blake -- receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades -- including Blake's own brother.

Jeff D Lowe (93/100): A visually stunning movie on a grand scale, ‘1917’, which is made to play out over one long continuous take, will blow audiences away with its incredible technical achievements. Director Sam Mended and cinematographer Roger Deakins (the GOAT) have put together a jaw-dropping technical masterpiece.

If you are someone who marvels at the technical and visual elements of a movie, then seeing ‘1917’ in theaters is an absolute must. Every year a few movies are released that should only be seen on the big screen and ‘1917’ probably tops that list for 2019. The style of one long continuous take adds so much tension and grittiness to this war story that follows two soldiers played by George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman. You become immersed in this world, a movie that is a non-stop “edge of your seat” right from start to finish. Much like Alejandro G. Inarritu and the one-shot ‘Birdman’, Mendes took a risk and tried to make something that sticks out from the crowd… and it paid off. Instead of me describing what went into making '1917', I'd suggest watching this behind-the-scenes featurette instead.

For the sake of a comprehensive review and viewing both sides of the coin, however, I will play devil’s advocate and note that not everyone is going to love this movie. If you didn’t connect on all levels with the movie ‘Dunkirk’ (I loved Christopher Nolan World War II movie), then I would expect the same to happen for you to an extent with ‘1917’. While the performances are solid and have to work in order for this movie to flow, the depth of the characters themselves left a little to be desired for me in terms of an emotional connection to the movie. At times I felt a bit too distracted from the story by the crazy technical components that play out on screen. It wasn’t drastic enough for me to view it as a major flaw, but some audience members will likely find this as a huge turn-off.

More boundaries need to be pushed when it comes to what can be done on the big screen, so a movie like ‘1917’ will always have my full support. What helps is when the movie is also a spectacle and fantastic product, two things that can be said about ‘1917’ as well. I’d suggest finding an IMAX theater and seeing this new World War I movie this weekend.

OSCARS NOTE: Despite its win at the Golden Globes, I would still hesitate to call this movie the front-runner for Best Picture. Now in terms of Sam Mendes, he is very much in the mix for Best Director.

KenJac (97/100): There aren’t a lot of movies that had as much hype to live up to as ‘1917’ did for me. For it to not only meet these expectations but exceed them, is a huge achievement. It is gripping, highly emotional and incredibly well-acted. That’s all saying nothing that this is maybe the most impressive movie of the last decade technical standpoint. I’ve mentioned a lot on LCB how I think there is a sad lack of movies about WW1. ‘1917’ gives that conflict the representation it deserves and is also one of the best war movies ever made.

The story follows Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield (Dean-Charles Chapman and George Mackay), who are assigned to deliver a message to an isolated battalion that is about to advance into a trap set by the Germans. If they fail, 1600 men would die, including Blake’s older brother. They have to cross no-mans land and travel over 9 miles in under a day in order to succeed. They meet resistance from the Germans and encounter other isolated British units along the way. 

The cast, in particular, George MacKay, is absolutely incredible. Acting in something that is as physically and emotionally draining as a war movie is an impressive enough achievement on its own. Taking into account the nature of this movie, specifically that it is a series of long-takes presented as a single continuous shot, puts these performances on another level. Think of it as trying to solve an equation. The less there is to solve (the shorter the take), the less opportunity there is to mess it up.  The more there is to solve (the longer the take) the greater the opportunity that even the slightest error can occur, ruining the entire finished product.  

From a technical standpoint, this is one of the most impressive movies I have seen in years. Like I mentioned before, the whole film is long-takes presented as a single continuous shot. This means you do not get a single break in the entire movie, leaving you gripped to your seat from start to finish. Cinematographer Roger Deakins is the GOAT, and he shows you why with his masterful execution of the film. His artistic influence, combined with Mendes' direction and dedication to authentic production design, really immerse you into both the conflict and the storyline. There is minimal CGI and the sets are as real as can be. This clip gives you a good grasp of what to expect.

Besides being visually mesmerizing, the story itself is deeply emotional. The ending left me tearing up after an incredibly deep exhale. I don’t think this movie will be for everyone, but anyone with an appreciation for cinema, great acting, war/suspense movies, and good stories, in general, will love it. I can’t wait to watch it again, and you should put it at the top of your list once it opens at your theater. 

P.S. - Knowing Sam Mendes’ personal connection to this work through the stories his grandfather, a WW1 veteran, used to tell makes me like it even more. Dean-Charles Chapman (interview coming up soon on LCB), mentioned that he did some research in his family tree and found his family had veterans in the war as well.


The movie is Officially Buttered, with full reviews coming this week on our podcast. We will also rank our Top 10 movies of 2019 on this week's Lights Camera Barstool, including thoughts on '1917' from Trillballins. Make sure to rate all 2019 movies in the links below.