THE MOVIE GUY — Nonstop camera shots elevate 1917

Published 12:05 am Friday, January 10, 2020

It’s easy to be impressed by the camera trickery in 1917, Sam Mendes’ well-crafted war thriller. This World War I story is designed to feel like the entire movie is composed of one never-ending camera shot. That gimmick alone makes the film extremely impressive, as evidenced by the fact that it just won the Golden Globe for Best Film of the year.

Seasoned viewers should be able to spot the subtle cuts in the camerawork, but there’s no denying that the film’s long camera takes give this film an overwhelming sense of cinema verité. The non-stop gunfire and explosions are so relentless that you will feel as if you’re running through the trenches along with the doughboys, desperate to find shelter and an elusive break from the action.

Kudos to legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, who not only kept his cameras rolling, but also managed to find some of the most gorgeous shots of the year in the midst of all of the chaos. The film never stops long enough to allow you to appreciate the view, but I hope that you’ll remember the striking images once the final credits roll.

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I’m not as certain that you’ll remember the actors or even the story. The basic plot is that German forces are preparing to ambush 1600 English troops, so two soldiers are sent running through no man’s land to try and stop the attack before it’s too late. It feels like a video game as our soldier heroes dash through the countryside, stopping only briefly for an occasional cut scene with some famous actors in cameo appearances.

These human interactions pale in comparison to the battle sequences, partially because Mendes cast two relative newcomers in the central roles.

It’s interesting that this story never really allows us to make genuine connections with these soldiers. There are some very emotional moments with characters along the periphery, but the two leads are cyphers at best. I can’t decide if this is a flaw in the filmmaking or a brilliant tactic as it allows the audience to imprint their own feelings upon the soldiers.

Either way, the final result is a film that sucks you into the life-and-death struggle of war and doesn’t let up for its two-hour running time. The film is overwhelming, exhausting and thrilling—in a good way. Mendes is obviously a superb filmmaker, and in combination with Deakins behind the camera, he has created one of the best movies of the year.

But 1917 is not one of the best war movies of all time. For that, you need to be more invested in the lives of the flesh-and-blood, not just in the survival of two faceless soldiers.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at