1917 (2020) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Produced by: Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jaybe-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall, Brian Oliver
Written by: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Cast: George McKay, Dean Charles-Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Claire Duburcq, Benedict Cumberbatch etc.
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Music by: Thomas Newman
**CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS**
If Roger Deakins doesn’t win every single award for best cinematography in the world, I will be completely shocked! Together with Sam Mendes’ and their respective creative and production teams they have delivered a barnstorming, aggressive and beautiful work of pulsating cinema with 1917 (2019). In fact, the whole project is such a feat of technical brilliance, I think Sam Mendes will probably win best direction and the film will most likely win best film at the 2020 Academy Awards.
The form and style of the film are dictated by Mendes and Deakins audacious decision to film in one long continuous take. Set, as the title states in 1917 during World War I, we open with a long tracking shot and from there the shot never ends. Establishing the main protagonists Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), the camera glides along as they make small-talk, creating humour, warmth and calm before the storm to come. That storm derives from their mission to carry a message through perilous territory and prevent 1,600 British soldiers falling into a German trap. Immediately the stakes are high and these two brave men set out to achieve this dangerous task.
The choice to film in one continuous shot is a fascinating one and here it is executed brilliantly. Of course, there are occasions where a cut has occurred, but this is masked by darkness, water, camera movement or CGI. I personally am not a massive fan of longer takes though. They can be seen as a stylish, but empty process and usually work best in opening scenes. Moreover, by not cutting or using montage techniques I feel you can lose suspense, impact and pace from a film. However, that is certainly not the case with 1917 (2019). Here it works perfectly with the camera following, tracking, running, falling and stalking the characters, so much so, the audience becomes the camera. We are right in this war with them!
As we track Blake and Schofield through bunkers, trenches, fields, farmhouses, derelict buildings and villages, the stench of death and destruction surrounds them. Mendes and his writing partner, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, also create some heart-sweating and explosive set-pieces for the soldiers to overcome. Indeed, the pace with which they regularly find themselves under attack, married with the filmmaking style, puts you in the heart of the action and fight. The final battle where Schofield valiantly strives to reach his final destination and relay the message is utterly exhilarating and spellbinding cinema.
As the two everyman soldiers, George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman give convincing performances. MacKay is especially memorable as his tall frame, hollowed cheekbones and haunted eyes dominate the screen. Furthermore, the two leads are supported ably by a “who’s-who” of British actors. The likes of: Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Andrew Scott puncture the action throughout with their quality. Scott is especially excellent as a cynical officer, drunk and bereft of hope. The two heroes ignore his jaded battle worn persona, but soon find themselves surrounded by corpses, quickly coming to understand this character’s despairing heart.
Like Dunkirk (2017), the film is arguably thin on characterisation and character development, but stylistically impressive in it’s rendition of the horrors of war. Indeed, when the events switch to night, Deakin’s lighting skills dominate as he paints images with darkness, moonlight and fire with majestic results. Thus, overall, one could argue this is just one long chase film; an extended version of the climax of another World War I classic, Gallipoli (1981). However, the cinematic marvel that is, 1917 (2019), overcomes it’s narrative and thematic familiarity with an amazing technical achievement in both form and style. Awards glory beckons for all involved; and more importantly the film pays fine tribute to the gallant soldiers who served in an ultimately senseless war.