1917 (2019) movie review
1917 is a World War I drama from writer/director Sam Mendes that follows two young soldiers sent far beyond the British line to deliver orders calling off an attack that would lead to the deaths of 1,600 men. The film, which entered a limited release this past Christmas, entered its wide release this weekend to nearly widespread critical acclaim. This of course following its two Golden Globe wins, one for Best Picture, should help pave the way for 1917 to be one of the clear Oscar contenders for the upcoming Academy Awards this February.
Rachel and I saw 1917 last night, and having put off our Top 10 Best Films of 2019 for this, had high expectations. 1917 is an experience, and arguably one of the best films of 2019, as well as one of the best war films of the decade. While Rachel said she is considering it for her list, I honestly did not love it as much as it deserves. So here’s the thing: 1917 is really good, and is worth seeing in theaters. Rachel was also a bit more objective than I was about a few nitpicks, to I am going to be as fair as I can about a film that I thought could have been honestly better than the one we got.
So let me jump right in to the most controversial thing I have to say about 1917. I don’t think it needed to be one shot, or at least edited like one shot. In my head I kept comparing the film to 2014’s Best Picture winner Birdman, and while Birdman uses its oner to a brilliant esthetic, 1917 never really justifies the need for me. Yeah, the film looks stunning! But with Roger Deakins behind the camera, this film could look as stunning without trying to pull of the single shot. I get that the film is trying to put you right into the action and create the feeling like you are there, but Dunkirk (2017) does that arguable better without needing to restrict itself to the cinematography. So that’s what I would say the one shot feel does to the film is restrict it.
So I absolutely get that making the film look like one shot is what they aimed to do, but continuing with my absolutely meaningless shots at this, Thomas Newman’s score also misses the mark because of it. The music is often fantastic, offering grand sweeping pieces that could help the film feel more epic than it already is. However when the scene is meaning to put you into an intense rhythm through the one shot camera work, the music often doesn’t fit. Okay having said all of that, the costume design is wonderful, the production design gets to show off a side of World War I that we rarely see, and the visual effects, natural lighting, sound editing, and makeup are all top notch.
Okay I’ll hop off the super nitpicky high-horse and talk about why this is still a really great movie. For one, the performances. At first I really didn’t like George MacKay in his supporting role, and I didn’t care much for his character either. By the end though, this film knows what it is doing, as both he and his character were both compelling and driven. Of course lead Dean-Charles Chapman was pretty great too, and I loved seeing the two characters driven by two very different motivations towards a common goal. I won’t lie and say this film has a Hurt Locker (2008) level of character development, but I certainly appreciated the effort at some solid character development, as it turned out to be a bit more captivating than Dunkirk’s lack of character depth in that manner.
The tone was pretty steady, offering a consistently intense feel that leads to both excitement, emotion, and tension on more than one occasion. The pacing however was something else that I think was hurt by the long take. I’m sorry, I was trying to think of a few more positive things to say about 1917, like the powerful themes and such, but to me, I kinda can’t get over how good this film could have been to me. Even the pacing suffered because of a lack of editing. Plus I wish I hadn’t seen the trailer. I kept waiting for events to happen that I saw snippets of, and by the end I knew more than I wanted.
Look, this isn’t my best review. But like more than one film this year, I don’t know how to say negative things about such a decent movie. 1917 is a really good movie. It’s intense, has some incredible production design, great action, and it itself is a very unique experience that brings out plenty of emotion. So yeah, it is still totally worth seeing. I however honestly believe that it could be so much better with cuts. Not trying to do one take could have allowed for a better control over pacing and tone, and could have given us some truly gorgeous Roger Deakins cinematography. So look, either its very good, or its great. Either way, it’s totally worth seeing. I just don’t think it is as good as a few other recent war films, and I don’t think it would win Best Picture this year. 7/10.
So 1917? Did ya see it? What did you think? One shot or nah? And what do you think will actually win Best Picture this year? Whatever you think, be sure to leave a like or a comment below and let me know!
-review by Ryan Prince