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Review: '1917'

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So it is the height of the first world war. Two young soldiers are given this impossible objective - to go behind enemy lines and deliver a message that will save a thousand lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "1917")

COLIN FIRTH: (As General Erinmore) If you fail, it will be a massacre.

GREENE: The new film is called "1917", and let's talk about it with Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan, who's with us.

Hey, Kenny.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: OK, so you've seen this movie. What's the experience like?

TURAN: Well, you know, the word that everyone uses - and I think it's the most accurate word - is immersive. They cut it in such a way that it looks like it's one continuous take.

GREENE: Oh, wow.

TURAN: In other words, it looks like you're just following them every step of the way as they go on this, you know, classic movie mission to save lives.

GREENE: So immersive, you say. What is - what are you immersing in? What is the scene and the feel?

TURAN: Well, you're immersing in this horrible world of World War I. If people have seen "Paths Of Glory" or even if they've seen the Peter Jackson documentary "They Shall Not Grow Old", they've been there for years fighting for inches of territory. It's just cold and wet and miserable and, you know, the world of trench warfare.

GREENE: So that's a different type of filmmaking. You know, the camera - literally these long takes where you're just following every movement.

TURAN: You know, the actors said - and the director, too, Sam Mendes - said it felt like a theater piece, each individual take, because there was going to be no cutting away, no inserts, no movie magic that they usually do. They do multiple takes. So each take has to match up with the next take...

GREENE: Wow.

TURAN: ...And look like it's one continuous thing.

GREENE: And what happens if someone trips or someone makes a mistake?

TURAN: Well, as they say, it's like theater. If you're onstage, you have to keep going.

GREENE: What's it like to be behind a camera in that filmmaking style?

TURAN: Well, not probably every cinematographer handle this. The man is Roger Deakins. He's one of the most lauded cinematographers working today. And it's an astonishing feat of planning and execution, where the camera sometimes is handhold, and they put it on a dolly. Then they put it on the back of a truck. This was not something where everyone just showed up and said, well, we'll just throw this together. This was meticulously planned.

GREENE: Well, Kenny, the director of this film is well-known - Sam Mendes. But he's directing two leads who are not well-known at all, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman. Was getting lesser-known actors - was that deliberate choice?

TURAN: Absolutely was a deliberate choice. I mean, he wanted us to feel that these were real people. He didn't want us to be distracted by having seen them in other films or, you know, their star personalities.

GREENE: Oh. If you see Brad Pitt, it's like he's on your mind and not, like, that this is some guy in 1917.

TURAN: Exactly. He wanted you to be in the story completely with these guys. And it's very effective.

GREENE: So Sam Mendes had a personal connection to World War I. Is - what is it, and is that what made him decide to do this?

TURAN: It is what made him decide to do it. And again, it's very much like Peter Jackson. Both of these directors had grandfathers who were in World War I, who, when they were little, told them stories about the war. And in fact, Sam Mendes' grandfather was a messenger who kind of ran along the lines, along the trenches, delivering messages. You know, it's a different kind of message than in this film. But I mean, he was inspired. I think this has kind of been on his mind, and all of a sudden, he got to a place in his career when he said, this is what I want to do.

I mean, it's an astonishing technical feat, but I think what's really important to point out is that it's actually a very emotional experience. You get involved with these guys. You care about the mission. You want to know what happens. And the technology, which you can read about and see clips of, is fascinating, but you go because you care about the story.

GREENE: The film is "1917" - talking about it with MORNING EDITION and LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan.

Kenny, thanks a lot. And have a great holiday.

TURAN: Thank you, David. You, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHAN SODERQVIST AND PATRIK ANDREN'S "BATTLEFIELD ONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.