In Review: 1917

War films regularly find filmmakers obsessed with the experiential, leaning into some element of the form that places the audience in the position of soldiers on the battlefield. Apocalypse Now pioneered stereo sound that surrounded the audience in the chaos of airfare attacks. Saving Private Ryan combined its painstaking authenticity with a first-person visual point of view. More recently, Dunkirk edited what was separate strikes on air, water, and sea into a single concurrent narrative to present the multi-pronged efforts of war as a unified event. And now Sam Mendes arrives with the surprisingly rare World War I film 1917 to tell the story of one daring mission in real time, shot to appear as an unbroken take. It succeeds in strides, but makes for a disappointing experience beyond the stylistic gamble.

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In Review: Clemency

Chinonye Chukwu has a very ambitious debut with Clemency, a film that looks to balance advocacy with a poetic delivery that gets at the soul of a contentious American issue. The film is clear in its intentions as an anti-capital punishment drama, pulling no punches in how it grimly unveils the dehumanizing facades of bureaucracy that allow it to continue. And yet the film is also deeply personal, focusing on both inmates and their keepers in a way that refuses to allow us to consider this as anything but a human discussion. It’s dead serious filmmaking that charts a direct line in blood from the political to the social to the soul.

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In Review: Dark Waters

There’s an unexpected combination of spiritual material to auteur in Dark Waters, the true life retelling of Ohio lawyer Robert Bilott and his long-lived case against the DuPont corporation. Both a courtroom drama and corporate justice character study in the vein of a much more somber Erin Brockovich, Todd Haynes’ film details the discovery of DuPont’s knowing poisoning of local water supplies and the uphill climb for retribution. Mark Ruffalo returns to the everyman shoes that suit him best as Bilott, brought onto the case from a vague family connection and uncovering implications beyond the local community.

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In Review: Honey Boy

Honey Boy is like witnessing an exorcism no one asked for and the demon is Shia LaBeouf’s dad. The actor, having long since burned out his many chances due to extended bad behavior including an arrest that included spouting racial slurs, has some atoning to do. But the film is less about asking forgiveness than it is laying bare all that has ailed him, including a history of addiction that has afflicted his father and family beyond. Instead of empty signs of promising change or offering excuses in order to alleviate, Honey Boy aims for healing.

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In Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Arresting the senses and stimulating the mind, Céline Sciamma has made one of the most breathtaking screen romances of the decade with Portrait of a Lady on Fire. After her powerful previous features, Girlhood and Tomboy, Sciamma pivots slightly into a new direction, one that expands upon her queer humanism into more formal approaches. The depth of feeling is still wondrous, but moreso than ever before, the auteur has crafted something quite intellectually rigorous and intuitive that further elevates her emotional naturalism. Here she makes something intellectual and expressionist, bent on removing the creative divides between person and object in matters of art and of love. By the end she leaves you dizzy, catching your breath in the passionate throws of the film’s formalist embrace.

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