Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch
Sam Mendes is back after having given us the rather disappointing James Bond movie, Spectre, with a much more personal and, I believe, important movie, 1917.
1917 is a war movie, but don’t let that put you off. It’s set during World War One and Mendes based the film’s plot on stories told to him by his grandfather, Alfred Mendes, who served in the Great War.
It tells the story of two young British soldiers being tasked with the next to impossible mission of going across No Man’s Land in order to deliver orders to a neighbouring battalion not to attack the Germans because it’s a trap.
Their phone lines have been cut, and one of the soldier’s bother, Lance Corporal Tom Blake (played by Dean-Charles Chapman), is part of the battalion which is about to charge headlong into a German ambush.
One of the reasons why I found this film to be so effective isn’t the fact that Mendes wanted to film it all in one shot, although I would argue that this decision was the correct one and far from being a clever gimmick.
No, the main reason why I found this story, and this particular war movie, to be so effective was being it’s a relatively simple tale, and not so much about the British beating the Germans, but more about individual bravery, friendship and perseverance.
1917 is a world war epic unlike no other
What makes 1917 such a moving and captivating piece of cinema isn’t the fact that it’s a ‘war movie’, but more that you feel bound to these two soldiers and feel like you’re going on this impossible and terrifying mission with them.
This is why I believe the choice to have it all be one-shot (apart from one much needed cut in the middle of the film) is actually vital and helps to tell the story effectively.
The ‘one-shot’ aspect of the movie is used as a plot-telling device, and that’s the best use of it. It’s not Sam Mendes going ‘look at me. I can make an entire movie all in one shot’.
That said, there is an aspect of that, of course. However, there’s an actual purpose here for the film to basically take place with no cuts.
It makes you feel like you’re bound to the hip of these soldiers and it makes the movie unrelenting, which is how it should be.
It’s almost like experiencing a war movie in VR, but in many ways so much better than that because it’s shot so beautifully.
That shouldn’t be a surprise given the movie’s cinematographer is the legendary Roger Deakins, who’s shot films such as Barton Fink, The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, No Country For Old Men, Skyfall, Sicario, Blade Runner 2049 and so many more incredibly beautiful movies.
As far as I’m concerned, Deakins is one of, if not the best cinematographers of all time, and he finally won his Oscar for Blade Runner 2049.
The ‘One-shot’ aspect of 1917 isn’t a gimmick
I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to win his second for 1917, because the level of craft and ingenuity here is mind-boggling.
1917 is the best shot movie of 2019, and I doubt they’ll be a better-looking film in 2020.
Then you have the fact that the film’s two leads are excellent. Dean-Charles Chapman and George McKay basically carry this movie on their own, and they are wonderful as the two young soldiers.
You do have some cameos from some of Britain’s very best male actors around along the way.
The likes of Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden, but for me, it was Andrew Scott’s brief cameo which stood out. He can literally do and play anything.
There is one problem with this film, and it doesn’t bring me much joy to say that it’s the script. The film’s script is rather clunky in places and does take you out of the film on occasions.
I think part of the issue is that Mendes and his co-writer, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, were working from one person’s account of what went on No Man’s Land during World War One, and this cannot be called a historical film, because most of it is an invention on Mendes’ behalf.
This leads to some of the dialogue feeling a bit clunky in parts, which is a problem.
It looks like 1917 will win big at the Oscars
As I mentioned earlier, Mendes was inspired to make this film after hearing his grandfather’s stories, and that put a bit of a barrier between me and what was happening on-screen because I kept on thinking that most of this couldn’t have happened.
Mendes has spoken about his grandfather and the stories he told him as a child, and he did admit that in the stories it was one person going through No Man’s Land to relay messages to other battalions.
This, therefore, cannot be classed as a historical war movie like Dunkirk or even Saving Private Ryan because most it is an invention.
But then again, I can’t really fault it for that because Mendes is perfectly within his rights to come up with a story set in World War One.
I just think that you can’t really put the caption ‘inspired by true events’ at the beginning of this film because that will and does give the impression that all of this really did take place.
However, that’s a personal gripe I have with the film, and I thought I’d mention it because it did take me out of the film a bit.
That aside, 1917 is a war epic to remember and one which will inevitably sweep all the awards at the Oscars this year.
As Kate Winslet said in Ricky Gervais’ Extras, if you want to win an Oscar, then make a war movie. It’s rather ironic that this is what Winslet’s ex-husband, Mendes, has gone on to do.
1917 is in cinemas across the UK right now.
Have you seen 1917 yet, and if so, what did you make of it? Let us know in the comments below.
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