Directed and co-written by Sam Mendes (‘Skyfall’, ‘Spectre’, ‘American Beauty’), ‘1917’ is the depiction of two young British Soldiers in the ‘First World War’, perilously tasked with crossing enemy territory to deliver a message that would save the lives of 1600 men.
The soldiers portrayed are Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay), two compelling leads who brilliantly convey their character’s brotherhood bond. Supported by an array of acclaimed British talent such as Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden and Benedict Cumberbatch, these two lesser-known talents drive the narrative through various suspenseful and dramatic set-pieces with performances that perfectly replicate the hopes and fears of a typical WWI infantry soldier.
Utilising the ‘continuous shot feature film’ (or ‘one-shot’) filming approach, seen through the likes of 2014’s ‘Birdman’, Mendes is able to produce a truly breathtaking spectacle. The film acts as a ‘day-in-the-life’, yet this shooting style never makes for a moment of boredom, fantastically upholding the tone of desperation and moving seamlessly between awe-inspiring and quieter moments. This, combined with the screenplay’s highly engaging writing and the acting performances, particularly amongst the two Lance Corporals, glues audiences’ eyes to the screen. In credit to Roger Deakins’ beautiful cinematography, the film also does a fantastic depiction of the desolated battlefronts and lush wide-open fields of the ‘Western Front’ in Northern France. By using these environmental elements in such stark contrasts to one-another, the audience is given great insight as to the magnitude of the world at war.
1917’s greatest accomplishment then is that it truly feels like an epic war film. Ranging from the creation of war-torn buildings and towns, to the impeccable costume design, there is little that would weaken this movie compared to the leading war films of the past such as ‘Saving Private Ryan’. The inclusion of Thomas Newman’s superb score, in particular, is the dictator of the feeling. Acting a complementary piece to the large events on screen rather than the genre’s norm of overbearing noise, the film’s amazing swelling of music perfectly resonates with the acted emotions.
Distinguishing itself in the war genre with the unique use of one-shot filming, 1917 is the triumphant return to quality cinema for Sam Mendes, nearly eight years since Skyfall. Led by brilliant performances from young actors on the backdrop of awe-inspiring locations and events, Mendes’ WWI epic is now the blueprint for future war films.
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