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‘1917’ (review)

Produced by Sam Mendes,
Pippa Harris,
Jayne-Ann Tenggren,
Callum McDougall, Brian Oliver

Written by Sam Mendes
& Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring George MacKay,
Dean-Charles Chapman,
Mark Strong, Andrew Scott,
Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq,
Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

 

Stunning cinematography, and near perfect editing only slightly overshadow the often compelling story in Sam Mendes’ newest film, 1917, which tells the story of two British WWI soldiers played by George MacKay and Richard Madden, who are tasked with hand delivering an important message to the front line commander.

They must traverse a nightmarish landscape of death and destruction through enemy lines in broad daylight to reach their objective. An objective, that should they fail will cost the lives of thousands of men.

When I discovered that Academy Award winning Mendes and award winning cinematographer Roger Deakins decided to film the entirety of 1917 as one continuous shot, I was immediately both intrigued and worried.

Through the magic of digital editing and the stitching of scenes, the filmmakers created the illusion of having the film be shot with one continuous uninterrupted shot. It is only “cut” during one scene when the character blacks out. I say that I was worried because I was afraid that the gimmick would outshine the actual film as a whole. I was partially correct.

Thankfully, because Mendes is a great filmmaker and Deakins is quite possibly the greatest living cinematographer, they were able to pull off the feat without much distraction to the film’s story. At times I had forgotten that that was a thing as the story unfolded.

My only real issue with the film is that the story Mendes and Penny Dreadful writer, Krysty Wilson-Cainrs came up with was not as compelling as Deakins cinematography, or the editing by Lee Smith. It is very straightforward tale and serves more as a vehicle for the way to tell the story than anything else. It moves along, at times, like a two hour cut scene from a Medal of Honor video game. What is amazing is the epic scale of the film and the way it captures just how miserable and hellish fighting in the Great War must have been. It is beautiful in its abysmalness.

I also found myself comparing it in my head, to the WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old that came out earlier this year from Peter Jackson and I have to say that 1917 holds its own comparatively to actual documentary footage. Mendes really captures the look and feel of the front lines of that war and doesn’t shy away from the brutality.

This will be a no brainer for any fan of war films and another great film to add to the small list of WWI films out there. Gorgeous to look at and well acted, this film will please most movie audiences who are interested in this subject matter. I just wish the story had more substance and didn’t feel like it had to cater to the limitations of the directors wish to tell the story as one continuous shot. That being said it is a grand and mostly successful film achievement.

 

 

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