To make sure I cover more ground, I am going to make some of my reviews particularly brief. While I’m sure I could drone on about movies I really like (watch me, I will at some point), I think it is better to get a few ideas out to make sure I can touch on more films. So, here we go, short review…
I was fortunate enough to see Sam Mendes’ 1917 in the Seaport the other day. It’s half-priced Tuesday and they have those comfy chairs that recline like you’re in your living room. I would recommend this to anyone – excellent weeknight activity. They even serve beers there along with popcorn.
I was pretty floored by this film. I had a general idea of what it was going to be about, but I didn’t understand to which extent they would go to combine every shot into one concisely edited film. By this, I mean they actually make the movie seem like it never cuts or stops, but rather it is part of one large, never ending saga covering the perils of two soldiers. If you’ve seen Birdman, it is just like this, but way better because of the subject matter.
Essentially, this film grabs you from the first five minutes and takes you on its journey, which follows two British young soldiers during World War I (no-name actors) who are sent on an incredibly dangerous mission across no-man’s land to save the lives of 1600 soldiers by halting an attack by the Allied forces. Pretty high-pressure for two men. Either they get there in time, or everyone gets slaughtered. How’s that for an incentive? They are clearly terrified, and you are thrown right into that terror as soon as they have to leave the confines of the bunker. They don’t know what they might encounter out there and neither do you. While you never really get the full backstory on these characters, I found myself intrigued by both of their personalities from the get-go. The raw emotion they are both able to create with so few lines and descriptions is impressive, and it felt completely raw and human.
What worked well: the cinematography, score and film editing – components of this technical and visual masterpiece. This undoubtably deserved the Oscar for its incredible stitching of the various scenes together to appear as one shot, building intensity throughout. But deeper than that was the incredible narrative this movie created, and the feeling that you were actually the one hopping over no-mans-land trying to reach the platoon in time. Close-angled camera shots and genuine emotional connection to the characters helped bring this forward. You have long scenes of the main characters hustling through trenches, over corpses, and under barbed wire – which all in all painted what felt like an accurate rendition of the horrors and tribulations of World War I. The matted color scheme, pervasive color of dirt throughout, and the dark tone of the whole film invokes a mood of intensity and wartime. There were many long, panning camera shots which took a forward-facing look at the characters and their entire background (which they had their backs to), which leaves you constantly scanning the countryside for enemies or signs of life. The trench life was captured beautifully in all its squalor – rats, dead bodies, worn-out soldiers, and dirt. Lots of dirt.
The score was perfectly done. Throughout the film you have this droning, incredibly monotonous music which never takes over the scene but simply adds volumes to the emotions and actions of the characters. I hesitate to say it was the most important piece of the film, but it certainly carried the tension in moments where otherwise nothing was happening. It turned stillness and silence into palpable tension in a way that helped carry the movie from scene to scene and kept you on the edge of your seat. A soundtrack is a powerful thing.
In all, this is a great film and one of the very best of 2019. Possibly my favorite of the year along with Parasite and Midsommar – all three were incredibly unique in their approach to film design and direction. It perfectly captures the humanity and tension in such a brutal conflict, thrusting you into the thick of the action from the get-go. If you want a thriller, this is a visceral experience of one. Check it out.