Oscar Review – 1917 (2019 Film): War is Bad, Film is Good, Cinematography is Great

A film tries to capture the grotesque sights and claustrophobia of the First World War.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

On April 6, 1917, Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are ordered by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to take a message to Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. It seems that MacKenzie believes that the Germans are retreating from the current line and is trying to pursue them so that he can finish them off. Intelligence has revealed that the Germans were not running away, but instead retreating to the Hindenburg Line, an extremely fortified and heavily armed defensive position. If the Devonshire Regiment attacks, they’ll be massacred. Blake and Schofield are told to give a message directly from the General to MacKenzie calling off any attack, which would likely kill Blake’s brother (Richard Madden). Along the way, they meet a few other famous British actors (Mark Strong, Andrew Scott), because why not.

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We’re never more than 20 feet from one of them, I think.


Alfred Hitchcock, the famed British Director, once attempted to make a film that appeared to only have one cut, despite the fact that cameras could only hold 20 minutes of film at a time. That film was called Rope, and I can only imagine that director Sam Mendes was a big fan of it, since this film, similarly, only has one noticeable cut. I cannot fully convey in words the effect that has upon the reader, because we are so used to action films, and films in general, having rapid cuts for most scenes to refocus the scene or allow for more action shots with the actor’s face (except for Saint Keanu). To put this in perspective, this film appears to have two shots of roughly fifty-five minutes each whereas the average shot length of a US film is 2.5 seconds. Now, it’s true that these are not genuinely 55 minutes, but really several 5-10 minute takes cut together expertly, but even that is amazing in modern cinema. Having only one scene playing out also means that we aren’t really given the typical moments to reset and adjust that we’re used to during a narrative. Basically, once the film starts, we’re never given a respite.

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No respite for anyone.

While Hitchcock used the long-takes as a way to heighten the tension of whether or not a murder was going to be uncovered, this film uses it to accentuate the subjective filming of the movie. 1917 is not presented in the way that war films are usually shot, even particularly gritty ones, because in 1917 the camera is supposed to be part of the cast. The film, pretty much from the beginning, is shot in such a way that it treats the camera as if it is a third, silent, invisible party drifting behind them. 

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Sometimes you can almost feel them detecting its presence, but not in a bad way.

Because of this, the film doesn’t feel the need to do any of the normal things that emotionally invest us in the characters, because most of the moments that films use to get those require extended shots or reactions that don’t fit into a film that’s in real time. I’ve been reading a number of reviews that criticize the film for this, but I feel like that’s based on a rubric that just doesn’t apply to what Sam Mendes was going for in this film. We don’t have to project ourselves onto the characters that we’re watching in order to get emotionally attached, because we’re just supposed to be part of it. That makes all of the grit and grime and gore simultaneously more tolerable because we’re not as attached to the characters, but also more visceral because it happens closer to us. In the trenches, we are right next to the actors and suddenly surprised by other parties entering frame from behind, giving us a feel of exactly how closely packed these people were in these conditions. 

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We go through the doorway with them and it is tense.

Thematically, the movie takes a strong anti-war position that tries to avoid the usual issues present in anti-war movies. For example, First Blood, a movie that contains a story about how veterans were mistreated and filled with PTSD, was loved instead for Rambo kicking ass with a machine gun and given several sequels that focused more on that. Apocalypse Now is anti-war, but its most quoted line is “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” This movie tried to subvert that by having the central mission in the movie to prevent an attack. They also play up the grotesque nature of the battlefields through horrific images and show even the typically positive-associated parts of the movie, like killing Germans, to be taking a toll on the characters. Still, I’m sure someone out there was watching it going “war is kickass,” but probably fewer than most. 

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River of bloated corpses is pretty disgusting, unsurprisingly.

Overall, it’s a really well-shot movie and a pretty good movie in general, but I do imagine that it’s not going to be a lot of peoples’ cup of tea. 

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32) The Rains of Castamere (Game of Thrones)

While I’ve now added episodes from other, more recent shows as alternates, when I originally drafted this, this was the most recent episode on this list. Give me a break on the add-ons, I’m only guessing how well they’ll hold up. Despite the fact that it had just aired, I was confident that it would hold up as not just one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones, but as one of the most memorable moments in television. Looking back on it now, I don’t regret my choice. I think that I have had episodes of the show I have enjoyed more, but I still remember the way everyone talked about this episode the week after it aired. It basically covered the internet for a month. It was big, is what I’m saying. It was the Red Wedding.

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A Nice Show to… Watch Again!!! (I will not apologize for this)

Game of Thrones, and the book series it’s based off of, A Song of Ice and Fire, takes place in a fantasy world that’s unfortunately a little too close to reality. The bad guys win, a lot. The good guys are rarely actually that good. People die all the time, no matter how much the fans loved them. It capped off its first season by killing off one of the most noble characters it had, and for reasons that were completely believable.

The reason being “played by Sean Bean.”

For those who don’t know, here’s a summary of what happens leading to this episode: It takes place in Westeros, which is basically Britain, but with ice zombies to the North and some dragons on occasion. Okay, so it might just be Britain. The king, Robert (Mark Addy), gets murdered and his best friend, Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), finds out and reports that the king’s children are the illegitimate spawn of incest between the queen, Cersei Lannister (Lena “Don’t think about me banging my brother” Heady), and her brother, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Because of that, the king’s sadistic eldest not-son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Robert’s brothers, Stannis and Renly (Stephen Dillane and Gethin Anthony), Eddard’s eldest son, Robb Stark (Richard Madden), and the leader of the Iron Islands, Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide), all decide to declare themselves king. Hijinks ensue, in the form of a huge bloody war. A lot of people die, a lot of deals are made, allegiances declared, etc. All of this leads up to Robb Stark, as well as his wife and mother, attending a wedding intended to cement an alliance with one of the most strategically important families in Westeros, the Freys.

It’s complicated.


Other stuff happens in the episode, and much of it is also really well done, which adds even more credit to the fact that the end is so captivating. This is one of the first scenes in the TV show which, even while it’s similar to the book, manages to be slightly better in many ways because seeing and hearing it makes it so much more real than the descriptions. The wedding goes exactly as expected, right up until the Freys bar the doors and begin playing the title song “the Rains of Castamere.”

The Rains of Castamere is the anthem of the chief villains in the series up to that point, the Lannisters. More than that, it’s a song that was actually written about the person ordering the Red Wedding, Tywin Lannister, and how he previously massacred another family, House Reyne, by drowning all of them within their own castle by flooding it. It’s at the point of recognizing the song, that Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), Robb’s mother realizes that the Boltons, their purported allies, are wearing chainmail, but it’s too late to avoid anything. The Stark forces are slaughtered, helpless, by the combined forces of the other two families.

Worst.  Wedding. Ever. (Non-Reality TV Category)

“The Lannisters send their regards.” It’s one of those lines that you remember, not because it’s clever or profound, but because it perfectly caps off a massive event. And it’s delivered right after Robb Stark, a character that, to this point, we were supposed to root for, is stabbed in the freaking heart. It confirms who orchestrated the huge betrayal found in this episode, and devastates his mother who can only watch before her throat is cut and she dies falling to the floor with a brutal thud.


So, why is this episode so impacting? Because it escalated Game of Thrones’ already growing reputation for averting the typical narrative structure. One of the principle heroic characters dies horribly and almost pointlessly, his wife gets stabbed IN THE BABY, and his mother’s throat is slit. It’s a true massacre, played out the way that it did in the infamous Black Dinner, the historical event that inspired the Red Wedding. The show went ahead and reminded us: Anyone can, and probably will, die, if that’s what would have happened to a real person in this situation.

PREVIOUS – 33: The Bob Newhart Show

NEXT – 31: Doctor Who

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

The Episode’s on HBO Go or Amazon, but here’s the song: