1917 - Movie Review

1917 Directed by Sam Mendes
1917 Directed by Sam Mendes(Universal Films)
Updated: Jan. 14, 2020 at 3:43 PM EST
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1917 was the surprise winner at the Golden Globe Awards recently. It beat the favorite The Irishman and now has been nominated for ten Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and the one it is guaranteed to win, Best Cinematography. Roger Deakins, one of our greatest living cinematographers, who finally won his first Oscar (after 14 nominations) in 2018 for Blade Runner 2049 will pick up his second next month for his dazzling work here. The entire film is shot as it were one long take and at first this may be a bit distracting but soon it accomplishes exactly what it was meant to, immersing the viewer in a terrifying, exciting World War One experience.

Director and co-writer Sam Mendes (script co-written with Ksysty Wilson-Cairns) was inspired by stories his grandfather, a WWI vet, told him. WWI, although the subject of far few films than WWII, was noted for its futility and brutal trench warfare and long bloody battles for literally feet of territory. No place was this more evident than the Western Front near the border of France and Germany. Here in April 1917, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) are given a dangerous difficult mission: to deliver a message to the active front to stop a planned Allied offensive that is actually a trap by the Germans that will certainly cause the death of 1,600 soldiers. The mission has increased urgency for Blake as his older brother is part of the company of troops that will be endangered if the offensive goes forward.

This simple, fictional premise is the beginning of an incredibly rich and satisfying movie going experience. The film is spectacularly beautiful storytelling. It isn’t the story, but how it is told that makes it unforgettable. Many of the stunning shot compositions within the excellent production design resemble paintings. Rembrandt comes to mind in a tender interior scene with Schofield and a young female French citizen. The remarkable long takes and moving camera work add to the emotional urgency and heighten the trauma of war.

Film is an emotional art form and none of the style and beauty of 1917 would mean nothing if it the audience weren’t emotionally involved. I don’t speak for everyone, but this film had me at FADE IN. Much of its emotional core comes from the credible and harrowing performances by Chapman and MacKay. The physical feats they perform during the course of the film are impressive and they back it up with lucid, realistic, vulnerable and powerful performances; especially MacKay who has incredibly mournful and meaningful eyes. A great physical actor, he does so much with his body that conveys the physical and mental pain he is going through. Bravo.

1917 is a terrific film, a staggering achievement. See it on the big screen, if you can. It is easily one of the best films of the year.

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