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1917 – Movie Review

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1917 – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

The First World War isn’t explored in cinema as much as it should, despite its important place in 20th century history and how it would shape the course of the world. With 1917, Sam Mendes puts us right in the thick of the war and doesn’t stop as we travel through France with a danger at every turn. The decision to have the film look like one continuous shot sounds gimmicky, but Mendes and director of photography Roger Deakins pull it off in a way that feels natural. A lot of credit should go to the actors who inhabit the British soldiers sent off to deliver a message. 1917 works as both a technical achievement and an involving story that successfully takes us back in time.

Through its almost two hour runtime, 1917 keeps the audience as alert as the corporals sent on this journey. Sam Mendes and his co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns put together as many possible scenarios for them to find themselves in and seamlessly move them from one location to the next. The film rarely catches a breath as the clock is always ticking and time is of the essence. Most importantly, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman show the fear the two soldiers are feeling and their determination to make sure the mission is successful. These are not easy roles to play, but they capture the necessary emotions and we have a rooting interest in their survival.

There are many other characters who appear throughout the film that add to the stakes of this war. Some are portrayed by famous faces, like Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch, although one of the more impactful scenes is one where MacKay’s Lance Corporal Schofield meets a young French woman. It’s a rare point when the action stops and we get to know the humility of Schofield and that his heroism goes beyond merely being able to shoot the enemy. Of course, there is plenty of gunfire in 1917 and the sound effects surround the audience whenever bullets start flying by. This is the sort of war film that takes full advantage of a cinema’s sound system.

Roger Deakins’s work in 1917 is a huge driving force in the movie as his camera follows the soldiers. There are even some shots one wouldn’t expect and the use of lighting is particularly good. There is obviously a lot of admiration for the complexity of the shots and the timing is impressive. The stunt team also deserves commending as this could not have been an easy production with the many explosions set to go off around them. That adds to the authenticity of what we’re seeing on-screen and one certainly hopes this was a safe production for everyone involved. Meanwhile, Dennis Gassner’s production design does a terrific job of recreating the trenches and other locations in World War I.

1917 succeeds at showing us this war that happened over a century ago and putting us into a time machine. This is a movie that also wants to really show what cinema can do, as Sam Mendes and his production team utilise the full capabilities of the screen and sound system. The obvious comparison one could make is to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, due to how they both use technical wizardry and the art of film to put us in the same shoes as these brave soldiers. However, the stories they are telling are different and we’re given a distinct depiction of British pride and heroism in 1917.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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