Plot: Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldiers’ brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.
Director: Sam Mendes
Released: January 2020
It’s hard to see a better cinematographer working in Hollywood to than Roger Deakins, who has already included The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men and alongside director Sam Mendes, Skyfall, it was great to see him finally pick up an Oscar for his work on Blade Runner 2049 and from watching 1917 I believe he has to be favourite to win two years in a row.
It’s clear to see that telling this story was important to Mendes, who dedicated the film to his grandfather, who served in WWI and inspired the story we are told, which I believe is partly why the film feels much more personal and cared for than most big-budget war films.
Closter in tone to the excellent Dunkirk than more traditional war films such as the average Hacksaw Ridge or over the top Midway, 1917 sees Mendes and his team turn a rather simplistic plot of two men crossing enemy-held territory to deliver a message and save the lives of 1,600 of their brothers in arms (think the final 10 minutes of Galopoli spread over 119 minutes) into one of the best WWI films ever made. A bold statement I know, but I stand behind it.
A lot has been made about the way in which 1917 was filmed, where if you weren’t paying attention to where the cuts and edits maybe, you would be forgiven for believing the entire film was made up of two-shots. This could have felt like a gimmick in a lesser film, with a lesser team at the helm, but here it works for a couple of reasons, firstly it places you right in the thick of the action and secondly because it produces some absolutely stunning set-pieces. drawing you in from start to minute, without feeling cheesy or unneeded.
There are multiple times throughout this movie where you will be in awe of what you are witnessing, from the inspiring run across the frontline or a frantic escape throughout the ruins of a German-occupied village, lit only by the fires of the destruction and overhead flares, helping to make the two Lance Corporals feel like small cogs in a much much bigger machine and the insurmountable odds they face, seem to be too much at times.
Both Chapman and MacKay excel in what I feel is likely to be springboards to bigger things, their respective performances are flawless throughout and without them injecting all the heart and spirit into the film and giving it their all, 1917 would have likely been just a genius bit of filmmaking, nothing more.
For the most part, the film is a two-man show, but on the occasions, a supporting character is introduced to help move the plot along, it is usually a famous British face that has been brought in, with Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch and Richard Madden popping up to add some star quality to the piece and provide the icing on the cake.
At no point does the film glorify war but rather demonstrate the bravery the men showed fighting for king and country, while not being afraid to show their vulnerabilities and the fear that any normal person would feel in this situation. Even the most heroic parts of the movie feel realistic and incredibly bitter-sweet, further highlighting the futility of it all.
It’s only January but really doubt there will be many films that come close to 1917 in 2020, a true masterpiece in every sense of the world and no doubt be a future classic and Joker has some stiff competition for this year’s Best Picture at the Oscars. What a way to start the ’20s
If you liked: Saving Private Ryan, They Shall Not Grow Old, War Horse