By Nat Master

Mailed on February 14, 2020

Stamp image Priority
StarStarStarStarHalf Star

Dear Lee Smith

Dear Lee,

Congratulations on a job well done in Sam Mendes’ 1917, or WWI: First Person Shooter. I’m not being snarky, it really is such a great film. Much has been made of Mendes’ script (co-written with Krysty Wilson-Cairns), based on the wartime experiences of his own grandfather. However, while it is a good story, your editing and Roger Deakins’ cinematography is arguably the main draw.

The cinematography and editing that make the film look like one long take are rightly at the forefront of the conversation on 1917. ‘Invisible editing’ on such a massive scale is undoubtedly difficult to pull off, and you make it look – well, seamless. Quite honestly, I was more into the visual and stylistic wizardry on display than the narrative. The story is a very basic hero’s quest, and there is very little meaty plot beyond that. There is also very little time devoted to character development, but then I’ve never really considered that to be a cornerstone of a war film, where I’d argue the general rule is not to get too attached to anyone onscreen.

And yet, I have heard and read some criticism that 1917 is ‘too much like a video game’, and that it suffers from a lack of time spent with the characters. I’d argue that both these things actually make it a stronger film. 1917 is more of an experience than a story, and setting the protagonist up to move through his environment as though playing through a first-person shooter actually works really well. Character development is contained to brief ‘cut scenes’, but there are still plenty of very powerful, moving moments in between all the shooting and explosions.

I can understand how some viewers might have felt a little stiffed; the trailer for the film spotlights a roster of some of the biggest British movie stars out there, making it seem like they will each have significant screen time. In fact, each of them is barely on screen for two minutes, and I found that cheeky and hilarious. Dangling Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth in front of my nose only to have them utter three lines and disappear into the trenches is a pretty baller move – although a few more minutes of Andrew Scott would have earned you the extra 0.5 to make this a 5-star review. Just saying.

I usually have a tough time with war films because my brain tends to click off beyond a certain point of unrelenting noise and visual chaos, but I found 1917 to be much easier viewing. Your pacing achieves a balance between kaboom and quiet that allows full appreciation for the most intensely violent moments, but also the opportunity to regroup and absorb the progression of the narrative, while still keeping the viewer engaged and moving along with our hero from one level – sorry, scene – to the next.



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