“1917” Film Review

Outstanding dramatic and technical achievement! 1917 is an anxiety-inducing, gripping motion picture. Sam Mendes’ direction is exemplary and the cinematography mind-blowing. Winner of two Golden Globes, and destined for Oscar nominations, this film is one that I highly recommend that you watch in Dolby or IMAX (if Dolby is not available in your cinema). While 1917 is not a horror film in the conventional sense, it delivers unparalleled wartime brutality that forces us to face the real horrors of war and never let up for the duration of the film. After the box office bomb that was Cats, Universal Pictures needed a homerun for both revenue and awards-possibilities. Suffice it to say, 1917 will rake in the award wins and nominations and the box office revenue that the legacy studio needs to keep financing/distributing original films of both mid and high budgets. This film is more than a cinematographic exercise of telling a feature-length visual story with one continuous tracking shot. Obviously there are moments of cuts (if you try to look for them); but for all intents and purposes, Mendes sells audiences on the tracking shot, even when the camera literally glides across the water. The film is both gorgeous in its technique and beautiful in the story. It’s not simply another war movie, it is a powerful experience that places you at the front lines of World War I. Compared to past films about WWI or WWII, I cannot think of a single other film that captured the atrocities of war and the unending violence and anxiety in nearly as brilliant or artistic a fashion. Tension will run high, and continue to ratchet up as the story unfolds. While much emphasis has been placed on the “single take” approach to shooting this film, there was the risk of the film not allowing for other elements of a good story; however, Sam Mendes delivers both a film that is shot brilliantly and one that delivers a dynamic, complex central character within a simple yet compelling plot.

During World War I, two British soldiers — Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Cpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) — 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.

Let’s start out with the element that is being talked about more than anything else–and that is the cinematography by Roger Deakins. There is so much more to this film, but I want to address that aspect first. It’s not one continuous shot. And so what??? It is unrealistic to shoot an epic (much less war movie) in a single take for two hours. However, the film certainly feels like one continuous take more than 90% of the time. And to that end, the this technical achievement is phenomenal! While it may not be innovative (as it has been done before) how the commitment to the single take approach was was executed was outstanding! There is even a moment that our two central characters are navigating navigating around a giant crater and the camera glides across the water, never stopping before or after. Talk about fantastic! More than an exercise whether or not this could be accomplished as nearly flawlessly as it was, there is also the added benefit of the enveloping experience of being on that battle field with our characters, because there is no break. A cut or break could remind us that we are safely in the auditorium, but continuing the shot never allows for a break in the excelling rising tension for the whole film. All that said, I did experience a disadvantage of knowing about the whole one shot going into the film because I found myself looking for the moments when a cut happened. And it was ultimately a distraction in the beginning. As the film progressed, I was less obsessed with looking for the cuts and simply allowed myself to get lost in the film. So my advice to filmmakers and critics watching this film is to not look for those cuts as it could become a distraction.

Here’s where it’s met with some opposition from critics: the story (inclusive of characters). There has been some notion that the method of story execution (the aforementioned “single tracking shot”) prohibited traditional story, character, and plot development. While the single tracing camera approach does minimize the amount of time that can be covered (because the story exists mostly in real time) and the points of view from the camera, there is still a powerful story of courage and determination. It is clear that Mendes desired to do for WWI what Saving Private Ryan did for WWII, and in my opinion, he did just that–and more! We are introduced to our two central characters: one is determined (Blake) and the other apprehensive but compliant (Schofield). Without going into details that would get into spoilers, there is sufficient character development that shows a transformation in worldview and level of purpose and courage when these characters are faced with grueling conflict and setback after conflict and setback. Through the brutalities of war, these two characters, of which Schofield emerges as THE central character (with Blake chief supporting), we witness demonstrable growth that affects Schofield in such a way that he is forced to take certain actions that directly impact the plot and his personal development. I don’t mean to be vague, but it’s important that you go into the film with a little knowledge of details as possible.

Once our two soldiers are sent on their mission from the General to take orders to another company on the other side of what is referred to as No Man’s Land (through German encampment), it is a nonstop brutal adventure with stakes as high as life and death. Mendes shies not away from the gritty violence and total destruction of war. At one point, one of our main characters cuts his hand on barbed wire, then not long after, plunges his hand into the chest cavity of a corpse. And that is as tame as it gets–only gets more terrifying and brutal from there. Everything feels so incredibly real. Like, you should duck for cover yourself as the bullets and shells fly across the screen. If you choose to see it in Dolby (as I did), you will feel as though you are in the middle of the battle field and deep in the trenches along with the brave men fighting for the freedom of France and the rest of the world. Not since Saving Private Ryan has there been such a masterful war motion picture to hit the silver screen.

Don’t sleep on this film, even if you are not typically into war pictures. Take me for example. I am not ordinarily into war films (or sports movies). And yet, I find this one truly compelling! There’s an unapologetic authenticity in everything Mendes’ film has to offer audiences. Do yourself a favor and watch one of the best films of 2019/2020.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry

“007: SPECTRE” movie review

SpectreA brilliant Bond film and excellent followup to the wildly popular Skyfall. Director Sam Mendes pulls out all the stops in MGM and Columbia’s Spectre the 24th official title in the Bond 007 franchise. After the soaring success of the previous chapter in the Bond anthology, who would have known that this final appearance of Daniel Craig as the heartthrob MI6 “paid assassin” would be just as thrilling! Just the opening sequence of the movie will have you on the edge of your seat, and the many throwbacks to past Bond film plots or characters will capture your attention for the two and a half-hour runtime. Even Blofeld, the original Bond villain, and his fluffy white cat appear in this epic Bond story. The jaw-dropping action will satisfy even the most ardent and long-time James Bond fans. Whether you’re an old-school or new 007 fan, you are definitely in for a treat. Some of the most refreshing and getting-back-to-authentic Bond elements, of the Craig chapters in the series, is the lack of over-the-top and at times absurd gadgetry, and a return to the very essence of what makes this franchise stand the test of time.

After the tragic events at Skyfall and the destruction of MI6’s massive facility on the Thames, James Bond 007 (Craig) is following a lead in Mexico City thanks to a cryptic posthumous message from the former Agent M (Judi Dench). When the actions in Mexico City draw the attention of the UK’s new head of security and Agent M (Ralph Fiennes), 007 is both grounded and puts the very existence of MI6 in jeopardy. After an unauthorized mission to northern Africa, 007 learns of the sinister crime syndicate known as SPECTRE. Coming face-to-face with the leader of Spectre, 007 learns of a chilling connection between the leader and himself. From northern Africa to the Austrian Alps, 007 must race against the clock to stop a big surveillance data collection organization from being the eyes of the world, and take out the leader of Spectre before he has his hands in the security pockets of several countries around the world.

This final chapter in the Craig Bond series has it all: action, romance, espionage, intrigue, and car chases. But probably the best elements of the movie are connected to  getting back to the very core of what has kept this franchise alive for over 50 years and 24 official titles. Despite the success and popularity of the 90s Brosnan 007 movies, they tended to place a lot of significance on the futuristic and ultimately impossible gadgets. Understandable, because the 90s were a time of massive personal electronic device innovation and the dot com boom. However, this emphasis on the gadgets took away from the plot and character development. Still, those era of Bond movies were exciting and still popular today amongst mostly the newer Bond fans. Returning to the very essence of what make Bond the 007 that fans adore is what makes the Craig films unique and exciting–especially in Skyfall and Spectre where 007 truly comes into his own. We still get some gadgets and the famous Bond film cars, but there is a degree of believability and realism that exists in these films that did not exist in the 90s Bonds. Even though these are still high concept films that have over-the-top action packed sequences, these movies still have a sense of old-school espionage class about them. An interesting side note: there is definitely a hint of the plot from Tomorrow Never Dies in this current installment.

No 007 movie would be complete without an original song that is eerie, romantic, and mysterious all at the same time. The title song from Skyfall performed by the incomparable Adele was an outstanding work of music and lyrics. It truly embodied the film itself and cemented her career as a master of soul/jazz. I cannot say the same for Sam Smith’s performance of “The Writing’s on the Wall.” I was not all that impressed with his performance and I thought the song itself paled in comparison to 2012’s “Skyfall.” Despite the fact that I didn’t personally care for Sam Smith performance or the song, it definitely still had that Bond theme flare about it. Between the graphics and editing, you still knew that you were watching a 007 movie without needing to see the poster or title. Looking to the next vocal artist, I’d like to see Elle King perform the next Bond theme song after her very Bond-ish sounding “Under the Influence.” Regarding the film score, Thomas Newman shines as he so often does with his remarkable talent for capturing the soul of a film in the score that accompanies it.

Facing the popularity of Skyfall, it was definitely a monumental task for Mendes to direct this Bond film. And although I do not feel that Spectre is better than Skyfall and at times I felt that I enjoyed the previous one more, I still thoroughly enjoyed this present installment of the anthology. And to my pleasant surprise, Dame Judi Dench makes a small cameo appearance as the M we’ve had for nearly 20 years. In respect to the characters in and of themselves and their personal/interpersonal relationships with one another, I really felt that the chemistry between M, Q, 007, Money Penny, and Blofeld was right on the ‘money.’ There really isn’t much in the way of traditional or conventional character development but that is commonplace in high-concept films. However, the glimmer of development in both M and 007 was enough to show that these characters and actors were almost made for each other. It was never awkward or boring to watch their interactions with one another.

Ready for an actual spy movie filled with assassins, intrigue, espionage and romance–especially after having sat through Bridge of Spies??? Then definitely watch the next chapter in the Bond, James Bond 007 anthology SPECTRE! Prepare yourself for over two hours of excitement, explosions, and dynamic car chases. Return to old school Bond! Watch as many plot elements through the years and even the villain who started it all make it full-circle.