1917 (2019) Jan 12, 2020 19:28:29 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Jan 12, 2020 19:28:29 GMT -5
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Sam Mendes' 1917 opens in a tranquil field, where Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, Game of Thrones) and Schofield (George MacKay, Captain Fantastic) are taking a moment's rest from the perils of World War I. They are awakened by a fellow solider who sends them to their commanding officer (Colin Firth). The two are given an assignment: they must stop a Battalion of British troops, one of them Blake's brother, who are unknowingly about to enter a German trap. Communication has been lost and both Blake and Schofield must navigate dangerous territory in order to prevent the Brits from going to battle. That sets the tone for the next two hours.
The most obvious talking-point with 1917 is its filming style. It's one of those technical marvels that appears to be filmed in one continuous take. For a war film, this is a bold decision. Beyond logistics, it gives us the perspective of an unblinking eye as we watch the two men navigate barbed-wire, ambushes, and towns left in rubble in order to deliver the stand-down message before the 2nd Battalion engages. Wisely, the film has Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Blade Runner 2049) handle cinematography duties, and with that, we get crisp wide-shots that pack so much into any given image. Because the film never cuts away or loans itself to any other perspective beyond that of Blake and Schofield, we're prisoners of the moment as much as they are. Momentary narrative lulls that give way for conversation are inevitably interrupted by gunfire, plane crashes, or some other unforeseen circumstance that tests the ability of the two soldiers to respond and adapt with no warning. From grassy plains to the cramped and treacherous conditions of trench warfare (which feature handheld camerawork, mind you), Deakins' visual clarity and richness once again affirms his legendary status.
Because of this stylistic choice, 1917 is more of a war thriller than anything. It doesn't wrap itself up in the moral quandaries nor the sociopolitical climate of the period. That wasn't a dealbreaker for me, especially since we get strong moments like the one between Schofield and a French woman and an orphaned infant that lend themselves to human interest. Blake and Schofield might not be textured characters in the classical sense, but compared to Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk — a film that disregarded all its humans in favor of technical prowess — this film offers some close connection to these souls. Given the immediacy provided by one long take, we spend the entire runtime with both of these men and learn about them through their actions. Consider Schofield's quick-thinking following a plane suddenly crashing into a dilapidated shack, or his life-saving maneuvers after he falls into rocky waters, with an aftermath that leaves him doubled over bawling at the circumstance and the realization he's quite possibly never been more helpless. As a thriller, 1917 is first-class in its execution.
There are countless features and shorts dedicated to World War II, and for good reason. There were so many factions and historical recesses during that period — from Hitler's rise to the Great Depression, Anne Frank to Nazi art thieves — that it's layered enough for a plethora of projects to offer new perspectives. World War I doesn't get that same treatment, especially in the modern day, and the time period and its retrospective limitations have never seemed so archaic. 1917 captures a microcosm of the war from the frontlines in a way that embraces modernity. It's a credit to Deakins for making it such a visceral experience, and Mendes (who also serves as co-writer) and Krysty Wilson-Cairns for not neglecting the humanity despite all the on-screen chaos.
NOTE: I've also started "Stove's Movie Minute" for WALLS 102, the radio station at which I'm currently employed. It'll be a pithy, weekly podcast reviewing the latest movie in theaters. Check out my review of 1917 here: www.walls102.com/stoves-movie-minute-1917-2019/
Starring: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Colin Firth, Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Claire Duburcq. Directed by: Sam Mendes.