1917 is a stunning cinematic achievement.
The only thing that kept popping up in my head while watching director Sam Mendes’s gloriously immersive, thoroughly gripping and spine-tinglingly suspenseful film was, for lack of a better term, the balls on this guy. The talk of using the innovative large-format camera for the purpose of one continuous shot is a grand piece of filmmaking and surpasses the beach scene in Atonement in almost every way at its blistering 119-minutes. It was a gutsy decision that paid off handsomely. 1917 is a stunning cinematic moviemaking achievement.
Mendes’s film takes place in World War I where the British soldiers wake up one fine morning and find the German soldiers had vanished from the front. Two young men, Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay of Hulu’s 11.22.63 fame) and Lance Cpl. Blake (Game of Thrones’ Deane-Charles Chapman) is told to report to General Erinmore (Colin Firth) instead of getting a day pass to go look for some trouble with the newfound frontlines cleared of Jojo Rabbit’s best friend’s future disciples. They are given orders to hand-deliver a message across enemy lines that will save 1,600 fellow British soldiers from a trap; it just so happens one of them is Blake’s own brother.
1917 was written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Penny Dreadful), and, in part, was inspired by Mendes’ Grandfather, who fought in the war. The script is good and will not be given credit for the planning side of mapping out the technical components of the film and how meticulously it plans out the continuous shot. Mendes eases you into the thick of it, instead of dropping you in the middle like Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan on the beaches of Normandy, and it’s a slow burn. It’s haunting really, with the credit going to the great cinematographer Roger Deakins’ visually stunning shots and the flawless editing by the sterling Lee Smith. The technical dream team Mendes has put together is responsible for surrounding the viewer with the feeling of the improbable task of getting to their final destination that’s absolutely enthralling. Along with one of the finest musical scores you’ll ever hear by Thomas Newman (whose music in Passengers made that film tolerable), make 1917 an all-encompassing visual marvel with its fervent emotional pace.
Now, some film critics are notoriously catty and many will hold Mendes’s American Beauty over his head as if it was some mark of disdain. Until Green Book took home the Best Picture prize last year, it was between the movie with “so much beauty you can’t take it” or Crash as being the worst ****-ups in Oscar history. The main complaint that Mendes films are all style, and having very little substance; which sums up critics of Beauty‘s cold, superficial existence. Don’t listen to them here and ignore their quibbles about it being the ultimate video game experience. Yes, it’s a simple story, that doesn’t delve into the conflict or the reasons why the war was fought; you have plenty of films for that. 1917 is about a man’s will to save bus fellow soldiers’ lives, the bravery of the men who fought in these conflicts, and overall cost. That doesn’t make it an empty or fruitless picture, it sets it apart as a worthwhile one.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.