Monday, January 13, 2020

1917, 2019 - ★★★★★

This movie blew me away. Sam Mendes' personal recounting of stories his grandfather told him is at the same time sentimental, moving and utterly thrilling to experience. The film (which plays out over a single day in 1917) focuses on two young British soldiers in World War I. Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman aka Game of Thrones' Tommen Baratheon) are given an order to hand-deliver a message to a different regiment, calling off a planned attack against German forces that would end in massive bloodshed if carried out. The premise is simple but the cinematic execution here is world class.

I felt very much like I did in watching 2013's Gravity when viewing this film. I was riveted to the screen from the first frame and there is an underlying tension and realness that Mendes and his amazing cinematographer Roger Deakins brings to life. You are experiencing war first-hand and get to witness all of the chaos that war brings despite several scenes and settings that portray beautiful landscapes and haunting visuals.

What is so technically amazing about this film is the choreographed fluidity of the film-making involved. From start to finish the camera is right there up close and personal with Schofield and Blake. We see them exploring the trenches in familiar territory at the start and then are right there with them with each new landscape and area of France they explore first-hand. There are numerous scenes that go on for long periods of time without a visible cut in filming. Mendes lets Deakins do his work and through some technical tricks it's almost as if the whole movie is one long take. The scene you see in the trailer of Schofield running through a charging battalion near the end of the film is totally amazing to witness on the big screen. It's a virtual lock that Deakins will take home a well deserved 2nd Oscar win for his work here.

Mendes really should be rewarded as well. In a very similar vein to what Alfonso Cuaron did with Gravity, Mendes orchestrates tragedy, conflict and beauty in a seamless sequence of rich landscapes and realistic battle scenes. At times I felt like I was playing Battlefield or Call of Duty on my PS4 during sequences in this film. While not totally filmed from a first-person perspective there are First-Person-Shooter elements in this movie. Thomas Newman's effective and brilliant score ties in perfectly with the sprawling narrative.

The acting here is serviceable but this is certainly not an actor's movie. MacKay and Chapman give a raw sense of panic and resolve and make you feel like the third Lance Corporal along for the ride with them. Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden and Benedict Cumberbatch all show up for brief scenes but add a sense of authenticity and importance to the film. This film is all about the journey though. The path these two young soldiers have to follow to complete their mission. Through day and night, they experience battle and conflict but also moments of clarity and kindness that contrast the horror of war.

Simply put, 1917 is a masterpiece. A poetic symphony of site and sound that brings you along with the two heroes of the film in a totally immersive experience that flies along at a rapid pace (this felt like an hour-long film). I can without-a-doubt say that this is right up there with Saving Private Ryan as the best war movie ever made. I really liked Dunkirk, but Mendes one-upped Christopher Nolan here. This is easily the best film of 2019 and I hope Oscar rewards this extremely high-level of film-making.