[Early Review] 1917 (2019)

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Dubercq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

Screenplay: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

119 mins. Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language.

 

I knew very little of 1917 until I caught it at an early screening. The single trailer I had seen looked impressive, but I didn’t know about the task of creating the film that led to its most incredible and jaw-dropping feat, the fact that it was filmed and styled to look as though it were shot in a single take. At first thought, this film seemed like one that’s narrative may not allow for something as difficult as that to actually successfully happen, so how did it all turn out?

Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, Before I Go to Sleep, Blinded by the Light) has been tasked with delivering an urgent message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Avengers: Endgame), and he has less than 24 hours to do it, as Mackenzie and his men are about to walk into an ambush that could lead to the deaths of 1,600 soldiers, including Blake’s older brother. Now, Blake and his fellow soldier and friend, Schofield (George MacKay, Captain Fantastic, Been So Long), have precious hours to complete their mission, and time is their greatest enemy in the journey.

Director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, Away We Go) always has a unique vision to his projects, and 1917 is no exception. It would seem that his time with the James Bond films has upped his ambition, and 1917 proves to be his most challenging visual film. As I stated earlier, he and cinematographer Roger Deakins (the greatest DP is history, just saying) have crafted their film to look as though it was shot in one long-continuous take. This requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief, as obviously their mission took longer than 120 minutes, but it’s more about the journey it puts the audience in than the realistic time-frame of the mission. For the most part, too, it’s an incredible feat of filmmaking. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the expertly-planned shots, and it did trick some people into thinking the film was done in a single-take.

Care should also be given to the editing. A film like 1917 wouldn’t work without someone able to stitch the whole thing together and create the illusion of a single-shot, single-take. The pacing of the overall film as sequences flow from one to another is only able to keep interest if the editing works, and it does.

Our two leads in Chapman and MacKay do some pretty good work together. Neither of them are the best of the year performers, but given minimal dialogue and a mostly physical performance from both, there’s a level of strained-friendship and brotherhood between the two of them, something that war and battle have the ability to create in its soldiers.

The screenplay, Mendes’s first, co-written with Krysty Wilson-Cairnes, is mostly incredible, but I feel like it didn’t service the two leads with enough character development to really flesh them out for the audience. There’s some emotional beats in the film that would have been better served if the characters were more-layered early on in the film. Blake and Schofield are developed through their actions quite nicely, but I just needed more character.

The rest of the supporting cast is exemplary in the film. In order to elevate the two relative newcomers in the lead roles, Mendes and the casting director placed as many upper-talent supporting roles in place to help, and it’s great to see so many fine actors supporting the journey, and it works to elevate MacKay and Chapman through interaction.

1917 is an excellent war film, one of the best ever put to film. This is an instant classic in so many ways as it illustrates the unrelenting nature of battle and war and the toll it takes on those involved. It’s also a story of brotherhood among soldiers and a promise made, and I was absolutely enthralled in it from start to finish. For a film done seemingly in one shot, there are countless sequences that are seared into my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it. This will stay with you long after leaving the theater.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sam Mendes’s Spectre, click here.

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