Wednesday, December 18, 2019

1917 - Review

Captivating and brutal, stories of war are amongst the most popular ventures for Hollywood to embark on for the past handful of decades. However, World War I always seems to be passed up for World War II or more recent conflicts when it comes to dramatic, grand tales of battle. But not this time. This time, director Sam Mendes steps into the trenches of the Great War, brings some fancy camera work from Roger Deakins along with him, and creates one of the best war films ever.

Two British soldiers (Dean-Charles Chapman & George MacKay) embark on a dangerous mission to save 1,600 men from certain doom during World War I.

To try and count the number of awe-inspiring moments of beauty and craftsmanship in 1917 is an impossible task. By far the biggest draw of a war film, or at least typically, is the scale and scope that the filmmakers utilize to showcase the real life inspiration, and they don’t get much bigger than this. Much has been made about the use of a single take, and rest-assured, it is 100% effective.

At the center of the creative choice is the work of cinematographer Roger Deakins. If there were any doubt as to his status as a legend of camera work, 1917 settles that. It’s an intricate and elaborate undertaking that relies on timing and carefully choreographed movement, and hope that the lighting and weather cooperates. One particular sequence at night, when combined with the perfect score from Thomas Newman, elicits such emotion that its actually hard to put into words.

And while the technical elements that elevate the storytelling will be talked about more than anything else as awards season goes forward, the unsung hero lies in front of the camera. George MacKay, along with co-star Dean-Charles Chapman, are given the difficult job of maintaining the audience’s eye for every second of the film, and they both deliver in spades. MacKay gets a little bit more to do as far as emotional moments go, and you can really feel the weight of the whole mission on his shoulders with each passing moment. It’s a powerhouse performance and draws the audience in even deeper to the peaks and valleys of this journey.
Behind all of this praise in some fashion is the fearless and bold direction of Sam Mendes. There is no discernible reason that 1917 had to be this technically astounding, and yet, Mendes makes the choice to go above and beyond. Combine that masterful direction with the script written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and the result is a film that’s not quite like anything else in 2019.

1917 manages to capture the treacherous and terrifying atmosphere of war through some immersive, insane, and impactful filmmaking. There are reasons that movies in theaters still have a place in a world of streaming, and films like this, that require the biggest screen possible, are why. Roger Deakins is coming for that second Oscar in what appears to be a virtual lock, and deservedly so. And Sam Mendes has some serious claim to his second as well, even in a crowded and competitive field. As the year winds down, you’ll be hard pressed to find a film as astounding as 1917.

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