apollo 11 (todd douglas miller, 2019)
sacro gra (gianfranco rosi, 2013)

geezer cinema: 1917 (sam mendes, 2019)

1917 is a movie with a trick. It's a technical trick, and it isn't always clear that it serves the picture as well as a more ordinary approach might. But the trick is so well done that you can't help but admire it, even though, paradoxically, the film works best when you forget about the trick.

That trick is to make 1917 appear to be shot in one take. You can't help but notice it at the beginning, when the two heroes are making their way through a long trench (1917 is a World War I story). But as the heroes encounter increasingly dangerous happenings, you occasionally forget about the one-take angle. I don't want to say the movie is at its best in those moments ... the technical achievements really are remarkable. But what raises 1917 above the level of a novelty is the acting, in particular that of Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay as the heroes. There is plenty of war horror, but Chapman and especially MacKay are the human element. That is what makes 1917 more than a trick.

1917 is nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. The cinematography award will surely go to Roger Deakins, and the film is worthy of many of the other Oscar categories. The narrative draws us in, and we really want the end to resemble a happy one. The movie is often hard to watch; it's not exactly entertaining, although this is appropriate for a war movie. But after two hours, we feel like we deserve a little something as we leave the theater.

What I especially liked is the way the trickery is human rather than CGI. You know that real people pulled this off. It's a bit like what makes Fury Road so much better than other recent action pictures.

World War I was one of the stupidest and most brutal wars, even given that all wars are stupid and brutal. 1917 doesn't stop to notice this ... no historical context is provided, and a lot of the brutality lies on the ground as the heroes make their trek. It might have been a better movie if such context were at least hinted at. Certainly it would be different. But the accomplishment of Mendes, Deakins and the rest isn't to be denied.



I'm excited to see this but wary. The preview makes me think it's a hero story and a sacrifice story which, in my mind, turns what can (and should be) antiwar movies into pro-war movies. Brutality can mean lots of things if we let it.

Steven Rubio

I'd say 1917 walks a tightrope between anti and pro-war. Honestly, I'm not sure it's possible to make a pro-war movie about WWI. But what you describe is definitely something that often happens to supposed anti-war movies. I don't think Mendes actually set out to make an anti-war movie. But what I called "not exactly entertaining" probably doesn't go far enough. The detritus of war is ever-present in the movie, it's an uncomfortable movie to watch. Combine that with the real history of WWI if you bring it with you to the theater, and you will find an anti-war subtext. (Although again, WWI was so stupid it's possible to see this as a subcategory of "anti-WWI" movies, rather than "anti-war".) But subtext is all it is in 1917, which gets our attention via the one-take trick, and which as you have figured out is a hero story above all else.

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