January 11, 2020

JOHN NOLTE’S 1917 REVIEW: Technically Dazzling, Emotionally Lacking.

The movie’s central conceit is that it’s supposed to look like it was filmed in a single take, a single shot (two, actually). There’s good reason behind this. The idea, I assume, is that this approach will make we the viewers feel like the third man on the mission. And in a few scenes this works, especially a shocking turning point at a deserted farm.

Overall, though, with the camera whopping and swooping, sometimes self-consciously (but nowhere near as self-consciously as that dreadful Oscar-winner Birdman), it feels like we lose something, primarily any sense of intimacy with the characters.

Close-ups were invented for a reason, and when the camera behaves like a voyeur instead of a lover, or the attempt to hold that single tracking shot is so strained you can’t help but notice, it takes you out of the movie. Sometimes in frustration. There’s a scene in a dark basement that lacks the intimacy and longing director Sam Mendes is obviously going for. The potential was all there. It’s poignantly written and performed. Unfortunately, the gimmick keeps us at arm’s length.

Part of the problem might be mine. While I never read reviews before seeing a film, I can’t avoid the hype, and 1917 is a critically-acclaimed frontrunner for Best Picture. For this reason I walked in assuming I was about to see something along the lines of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) or Paths of Glory (1957), two World War I masterpieces you can never quite shake.

Performance-wise and technically, 1917 beats the band. The problem is the lack of an undertow. Beyond War is a terrible and obscene waste of young lives, 1917 doesn’t have much to say. Near the end, by way of Benedict Cumberbatch, who has a small role, this is unnecessarily spoken out loud.

Read the whole thing, which jibes with my take. As I wrote on Christmas Day, after seeing it on a Texas-sized movie screen in Dallas, 1917 is certainly worth seeing in a theater for the full impact of Mendes’ bravura stunt effect of a “non-edited single camera film,” (actually loads of edits brilliantly disguised through digital trickery) but don’t look for much of a message beyond “war, what is good for?”

Related: Salon writer would recommend 1917 but is uncomfortable doing so when Donald Trump is president. “Keep in mind: This is the same site that published a piece on how the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movies were ‘fascist propaganda.’”

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