Sam Mendes offers the most tragic and immersive cinematic war experience since the release of Saving Private Ryan.
The feature length production of 1917, released on January 10, is by far one the most engaging and riveting journey through war torn Europe to ever grace our screens. Mendes’ one shot approach throws the audience deep into the agonizing nightmare of the trenches, and delivers an exceptional adventure through northern France.
The story follows Schofield and Blake, who are issued with a mission to provide intelligence to their fellow comrades further down the line. They journey deep into enemy territory in the hope the intelligence will stop the British army from advancing into a German trap, potentially leading to a blood bath. Against terrible odds and isolation from the rest of their forces, the brave soldiers race against the clock to stop the inevitable calamity.
Lance-Corporals Schofield and Blake, are magnificently played by George McKay and Dean Charles-Chapman. The two actors provide the audience with a combination of trauma and naivety. One of the films greatest assets is this vulnerability of youth and deep-rooted humanity that McKay and Charles-Chapman capture so effortlessly.
Offering a continuous POV, Mendes truly captivates the audience with cinematic beauty. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, does an excellent job at capturing the mud, the mire and the macabre beauty of life on the western front. The cocktail of Deakins’ breathless cinematography and Mendes’ no nonsense approach to direction, throws the audience mercilessly into the middle of everything. Every anxiety fueled trial, seems frighteningly real, flowing seamlessly from scene to scene.
The contrast within the film, from loud adrenaline filled firefights to humble and heartwarming conversations, is remarkably impressive. Bullets truly made me fly out of my seat, while physically strenuous moments of apprehension kept me on the edge. Softly spoken whispers behind enemy lines can turn into the deafening sounds of guns, bombs and dog fights happening over head. For a film which takes a one shot approach to its direction, the difference in theme and emotion explored is surprisingly well balanced and varied. The fluidity of the film is uninterrupted yet the journey seems to have a multitude of ups and downs, happy moments and equally melancholic ones.
Elements of the film within these quieter moments draw upon the human cost of war. The refined and wholesome aspects of humanity, tug viciously at the audience’s heartstrings. Both soldiers and civilians showcase the realistic, inevitable fragility, and mortality of the human condition. Through compassion and deception the characters feel real and authentic. The stillness in these moments bring a tranquility that is quite simply heart-stopping. These moments of peace are treasured in communion by the audience and the soldiers on screen. These are the moments within 1917 that make it the most interesting war film to emerge in years. When the guns stop firing and all goes quiet, we see what war can really do to people and the human psyche.
The catastrophic implications of war are seen on all sides, audiences witness the boyish charm of youth become tainted with the melancholy and destruction that lies in the wake of war. A truly powerful experience and one I wish to recommend. 1917 is not just a war film, it is also a coming of age film. Europe’s youth is the heart and center of the intimate production. A beautifully thought out effort, an exceptional companion to any history buff and above all a magnificent portrait of humanity shadow boxing with the dark reality of war.