“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!

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“Wonder Woman (2017)” film review

WONDERful! No seriously, this is an excellent film! And I’m just not talking about the superhero genre. DC finally hit a homer with this one. This film also serves as evidence that Zack Snyder can TELL/produce a great story but should probably stay out of the director’s chair. Warner Bros. and Ratpac Dune’s Wonder Woman is the superhero film we needed. Trailing so far behind the Marvel brand and film quality, DC needed to produce a film that would make up for Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad AND catch up to Marvel. Seemingly setting out to accomplish the impossible, this film exceeded all measurable expectations and provided a comprehensive cinematic experience. With many themes, this film hits on many topics and does so with incredible precision and elegance. It’s almost as if this film is an extension of Diana Prince herself. Never addressed or referenced as Wonder Woman actually, Diana Prince’s origin story is powerful and ever so apropos in today’s socio-political climate. If only we could all have the courage, compassion, and determination that Wonder Woman embodies and represents. There are certainly elements of this film that are directly aimed at the female audience members, but this is a film for everyone to enjoy and appreciate. Again, not just a great superhero film, but a great film period. One that’s inspirational, evocative, and without need for qualifiers.

After receiving a mysterious package from Wayne Enterprises, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) opens it to find an old photograph of a Greco-Roman female warrior standing with British military in war-ridden Belgium. Bruce Wayne wants the story. Long before she was Wonder Woman, Diana, daughter of the queen of the Amazons, was a spirited young lady growing up on a beautiful and mysterious island inhabited by a super race of warrior women placed on the planet to watch out over those who seek to corrupt it. Being the only child on the island, she wanted to be trained alongside the other women. When her mother expresses a lack of interest in her daughter training, Diana meets secretly with her aunt. Through the years, Diana grows in strength, agility, courage, and cunning. After she rescues Captain Trevor (Chris Pine) from a downed plane that pierced the invisibility shield that hid the island from the rest of the world, she learns of the Great War happening just outside of their borders and makes the decision to leave her home and help man defeat the enemy combatants who she believes are being led by Ares, the Greek god of war. Fighting alongside men, Diana is able to realize her true destiny and powers as she stops at nothing to end the war that is killing so many innocent people and destroying the planet.

Ever since her creation in 1941 by psychologist William Marston, Wonder Woman has always been treated the best when all pre-existing inhibitions typically added to a female character in a “man’s” role are removed, allowing the feminist ethos at her core to shine and erupt with unbridled passion and strength. Among other traits, the chief characteristic that separates her from other superheroes in both the Marvel and DC universes respectively is–no, not her gender–it is her ability to integrate truth, justice, compassion, and courage in everything she does to protect the planet entrusted to her people by the Greek gods. The key to understanding Wonder Woman is not through her brute strength or supernatural powers, but through her love and compassion for innocent people and her own integrity. Rarely has any film truly given women (or anyone, for the matter) a strong female protagonist who does not pander but exhibits excellence in well-developed strength of character and a complete eruption of the fantasies of many women to rise up to serve and protect. It would have been far too easy to sell Diana Prince as a vengeful women out to destroy men or seek revenge for the destruction that has befallen the planet; but no, that is not the Diana we see. We see a heroine of others–a completely unselfish hero who is of earth. Being of the earth is truly what separates her from someone like Super Man. Sure, some strong female characters from with the world of comics, literature, theatre, TV, or film have demonstrated strong characteristics and have been leaders; but Wonder Woman sands alone as a film that provides audiences with a female protagonist who is not merely a leader, but the engineer–the author–of her own destiny and story.

Why does this film work so well??? After all, that is the question you are likely asking yourself after so many DC flops (note: that does not count the Burton or Nolan films). The short answer is that Snyder was NOT in the driver’s seat on this ride; however, there is more to it than that. Snyder’s touch is certainly evident in many scenes (especially the action sequences); furthermore, he was greatly instrumental in the overall structure, but he took a backseat to the driver of this vehicle. His approach was important in the design of the car, and even building it, but when it came time to take it for a spin, he turned the steering wheel over to Director Patty Jenkins. Films featuring strong female protagonists most often seem to fair better when there is a women at the helm. And Wonder Woman is a testament to that observation. Whereas a male director would have likely spent some time sexualizing Diana, Jenkins spends the time on her courage and compassion. Instead of focusing on the terrain of Diana’s mystical home beautifully appointed with white cliffs and sapphire water or spending time on her sleek blade or even her trademark lasso of truth, Jenkins spends a significant amount of screen time on the terrain of Diana’s face. A face that communicates the heart, mind, and soul of Diana. Instead of a face displaying anger or disgust at the world of men, her face is often bright, hopeful, containing a winning smile with eyes overflowing with optimism. In terms of the production design itself, it only bares hints of Snyder’s penchant for beautiful music videos; the production design is one that takes itself seriously, but in the perfect amounts. Although the film is quite dark, there are sufficient moments of levity.

Perhaps you’re a stereotypical dude who does not care for films that feature female protagonists and feministic themes. No fear. Wonder Woman is actually a World War I film disguised as a superhero movie. As much as Wonder Woman works as an exceptional superhero movie, it is equally an impressive World War I film. Taking place in the days leading up to Armistice Day, this film displays the atrocities of war and the determination of both sides to win. You will find yourself in the trenches in France and Belgium with the Allied forces who, against all odds, are determined to defeat the enemy in order to stop genocide and widespread devastation. Placing Wonder Woman amidst the warriors of earth, connects her to humanity in ways that most superheroes cannot. Fighting for what you believe in is a major theme in this film. Some of the best war movies are those that “show don’t tell.” And Wonder Woman certainly shows what war really looks like instead of talking about it as some abstract concept or spending time in diplomacy. In fact, diplomacy is thrown out the window, and Diana lays the need to fight on the hearts of the bureaucratic leaders and soldiers alike. Pick up your sword and fight. Don’t just sit idly by while humanity is destroyed. There is a particular scene midway through the film that nearly brought me to tears because of the strong emotion and courage displayed by Diana.

Go see it! Wonder Woman is an exceptional film that will blow your mind. I had high expectations going into the film last night after the early reviews were released, but I was not prepared for the degree to which I would thoroughly enjoy the entire experience. It’s not only a film for women, it’s sincerely a film or everyone. Next time you are faced with great opposition, when it feels that the world is caving in around you, be a Diana Prince.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead