‘1917’s’ Gimmick is a Technical Feat, But It Gets in the Way of Some Potential Storytelling Resonance

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden

Director: Sam Mendes

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R for Explosives and Gunfire Flying Through the Air

Release Date: December 25, 2019 (Limited)/Expands January 10, 2020

The World War I men-on-a-mission-to-stop-a-mission film 1917 is one of those flicks, like Birdman or Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, that is shot and edited in such a way as to make it appear like one long continuous take. It also has a race-against-the-clock premise, as British Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are sent to deliver a message to another British battalion to call off an attack and thus prevent them from walking into a German trap. Chapman and MacKay display the right sort of nervous energy for a seemingly impossible, deadly task, but honestly, I wish there had been more bells and whistles on their journey. Specifically, it would have been a big help if there had been a clock in the corner of the screen letting us know how much time they had left to successfully deliver the message. That might seem out of place for a film that gets much of its power from disorientation and uncertainty, but when the premise is clear and simple, it helps to have the stakes be clear and simple as well.

Overally, 1917 is impressive and accomplished, but in a manner that often gets in the way of itself. The “almost” nature of the one-shot gimmick is not hard to suss out, as there are plenty of moments when someone turns towards a wall, or the picture becomes total darkness, and it’s clear that a cut would be very easy to do at this moment. Still, a series of several long continuous takes is tough to pull off, and the urgency that technique conveys fits with the subject matter. But … why not cut? Why not let us see the doomed battalion before they realize how doomed they are? The power of this story is in the dramatic irony of fate’s fickleness, and we get only a small portion of that by sticking on one path. Ultimately then, 1917 is a long fancy showcase to show off some filmmaking skillz instead of a fully realized narrative vision.

1917 is Recommended If You Like: The Revenant, Dunkirk, Video game cut scenes

Grade: 3 out of 5 Orders

Greetings From Movie Review, N.J.: ‘Blinded by the Light’ Review

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CREDIT: Nick Wall/Warner Bros.

In my review of Yesterday, I took the disappearing-Beatles film to task for failing to answer all the questions it raised. (Yesterday, I don’t mean to bag on you too hard; you’re enjoyable even though you’re so silly.) Now another movie about the power of one classic musical act has come along, and it benefits from a much tighter focus. Instead of imagining what the entire world would be like without Bruce Springsteen, it captures the profound effect the Boss has on one British-Pakistani teenage boy in 1987 small-town England. But that tight focus doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of questions to be answered.

Javed Khan (Viveik Kalra) is immediately enraptured the first time he encounters the poet laureate of Asbury Park, and despite their (superficial) cultural differences, he sees a model of inspiration to break out of his hometown and make it as a successful writer. But his new favorite music doesn’t change the fact that he’s growing up in a traditional immigrant family beset by financial struggles and prejudice from their neighbors and the National Front party. Javed thinks that Springsteen’s message is pretty simple, and in some ways, it fundamentally is. But the challenge for him is to look outward with that message when he is tempted to remain inward. Luckily, Blinded by the Light is up to the challenge of answering the questions of how one artist with such a personal touch can inspire someone to be a good son, friend, sibling, boyfriend, neighbor, and overall human. The journey it presents is unfailingly earnest and bursting with ebullience

Blinded by the Light is Recommended if You Like: Bend It Like Beckham, Sing Street, Standing up to neo-Nazis

I give Blinded by the Light 90 Death Traps out of 100 Runners in the Night.