Review – 1917
Sam Mendes’ World War 1 tale is an incredible unrelenting cinematic experience
Set in the April of 1917, the latest film by Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty, Revolutionary Road) tells the story of two soldiers given a seemingly impossible mission. They must cross no mans land and deliver a message warning that two battalions of 1,600 men are about to walk into a trap.
The tension from that story alone is easy to imagine as the two – played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman – set off on their journey through the brutal landscape of the trenches and body strewn landscape. However, beyond the story alone is a significant technical achievement in filmmaking.
The structure of the film its effectively positioned as a single shot and this creates an unrelenting reality to the film. Achieving this is a remarkable thing by both Mendes and his team. This team include Roger Deakins who has a huge CV of classic films – he filmed Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, A Beautiful Mind and on and on and on. Deakins’ work here is beautiful.
The acting performances by the two leads, especially MacKay is very powerful especially with relatively dialogue.
A number of war films have tried to address the ‘scale’ of the battles using more and more men and CGI to build the sense of just how big war is. This film achieves this sense but in a different way as it takes just two men and weaves them through the battlefield with a huge mission. It is a powerful tale of duty, friendship and survival.
I saw this in the cinema on a Saturday night and in honesty a busy cinema is something I dread with the likelihood of noise, people wandering in and out and occasional phone checking (thats a different rant for a different day). The audience in this film was silent which tells you a great deal.
Finally, I was asked recently by a friend to try and comment on the ‘cinematic value’ of films to try and guide whether the extra effort to see it on the big screen is required. For this film – it is 100% yes.