Director: Sam Mendes
I am not the target-market for the movie 1917. Nothing about the trailer inspired me, I have never considered Sam Mendes a must-watch director, I can count the number of war films that have moved me in any way on three fingers – and normally describing a movie as being almost like living inside a video-game is my idea of hell.
And yet 1917 is a motherfucking triumph.
It was a phenomenal movie-watching experience. Instantly immersive, hypnotic and moving.
We are hurtled along with Lance Corporals Will Scofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman). They are given the suicide-mission of delivering a stop-order from General Erinmore (Colin Firth). They’re to crawl through barbed wire, brave open-fire zones, trudge trenches and race the clock. And we’re there alongside them from the film’s opening.
Much has been made of the technical wizardry of this movie – and fair enough. In near continuous-shot style (think Birdman) and invisible cuts and edits (Roger Deakins’ cinematography is of course masterful) this is the greatest war-film I’ve ever seen. By a long shot!
It’s also one of the greatest movie-going experiences I’ve ever had (big screen, full theatre, the visceral hits issuing jumps and gasps from the audience, I swear you could smell the fetid dead animal stench, and itch and scratch at the buzzing of flies).
So it’s a big-screen must.
Oddly, some point-missing bores have suggested that there’s no character development. I thought that was the point. This film is at its best subtly reminding us of the futility of war, of the arrogance of generals and the trudging hopelessness of the grunt-work soldiers.
But also – Thomas Newman’s beautiful score helps to evoke mood and feeling. And though the camera is the rightful icon of the film, it’s a superb performance from MacKay as the eventual star and the inspired cameo appearances of some top-draw actors (Firth, Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden, Daniel Mays) help along the way also.
That we are pulled along, continuously, relentlessly, makes the movie. It could be about anything and the technical achievements (not just the camera work and editing but the sound design, the set-design, everything) would make it a worthy watch. But there are moments of beautiful pathos – including a mid-film re-set where Lance Corp. Scofield stumbles upon Lauri (Claire Duburcq), a woman in hiding, caring for a young infant. They struggle against the language barrier but find a human connection.
We need that connection – and that break from the action – as much as Scofield does.
1917 is a film unlike any other I’ll ever see. And to be open to the experience of it –I am essentially a war-film sceptic – is to put faith in the power of story, storytelling and the technical magic (and grace) of filmmakers at the very top of their game. I have no way of understanding anyone being disappointed in any way by the film. It might be the greatest cinematic achievement ever.
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