Film Review: 1917
Director: Sam Mendes
In Theaters: 01.10
Director Sam Mendes has spent the last 20 years trying to live up to his taking of the Oscars by storm with his feature film debut, American Beauty. Starting at the top creates a very tough act to follow. Mendes would eventually take a break from Oscar bait to give us two 007 films, but the more serious-minded director is finally back with his much talked about World War I film, 1917.
The film follows two young British soldiers, Schofield and Blake (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, respectively) through the trenches of the Great War. They’re given the daunting and dangerous task of delivering a message to a General, warning him that he is walking his troops into a German ambush. Blake’s brother is among the troops preparing for the charge, adding a personal element to the already high stakes race against time. In his second Bond film, Spectre, Mendes gave us a dazzling opening sequence done in one continuous shot, and clearly, he got a taste for it. Alfred Hitchock’s Rope and Alejandro G. Iñarritu’s Birdman had already shown us that an entire film could be presented in this format, but 1917 does it on a more ambitious scale than ever before. This is a war film that puts you inside the action in a way that rivals even Saving Private Ryan, and the effect is a harrowing experience. While you won’t see as much gore in terms of soldiers being blown apart, Mendes unflinchingly captures an overlooked horror that was a major part of WWI. Namely, the near constant and gruesome presence of the bodies of those left behind on the battlefield.
MacKay (Captain Fantastic, Ophelia) is riveting as Schofield, a terrified young man in the proverbial impossible place at an impossible time. Along with the rest of the stellar cast, he gives you plenty to care about as you hold on for dear life. Mendes’ status as highly celebrated director of the stage as well as the screen makes him a perfect choice to helm a film that is so epic and intimate at the same time. Thomas Newman’s alternately haunting and rousing score plays a major role in making everything come together, but legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins is the standout among standouts for his stunning and intricate work.
1917 is not just one of the best films of the year, or one of the best war films ever made—it’s a breathtaking reminder of the power of cinema as a unique art form and shows why a darkened theater is still by far the best place for it. –Patrick Gibbs