Director: Sam Mendes
Writer(s): Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Cast: George McKay, Dean-Charles Chapman
Synopsis: Two soldiers in World War I must go across enemy lines to deliver a message saving 1600 men.
This film is the technical achievement of the decade. It is one of the technical achievements of the century. And, it will go down as one of the most impressive technical feats of all time. Roger Deakins needs to make room for his second Oscar because there is no one who will touch him this awards season. However, to just focus on the technical side of this film would be a shame to Sam Mendes, George McKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, and the rest of the cast who make this film as heartfelt as it was. This movie is not just good, it is knock-your-socks-off and over the top imaginable in ways that even my incredibly high expectations could not fathom.
This film is “cinema” in its highest form. The way Sam Mendes not only gives us this technical achievement but still manages to get to the heart and soul of this story is breathtaking. The “one-shot” style of this film really forces the audience to immerse themselves in this world of war. This is the War that started on horseback and finished in the air. The advancements in warfare over the 4 years changed so much of the war. This brutality of war is not shied away from in this film, and the “one-shot” aspect forces you to live with these characters through all of these moments. World War I, because of all the changes and discoveries, might be one of the most gruesome wars in all of history. Mendes, however, does not hold back on that thought, giving us such an accurate depiction of what the war was really like.
One thing he did that was clever was that he did not try to base this story off of anything already written down or talked about. This film is based on stories his grandfather, Alfred Mendes, told him about WWI. This allows Sam to get into the brutalities of what war could actually bring. Without having to be true to a specific story, Mendes, Wilson-Cairns, and the crew were able to really get into the war aspect of the film. They touched heavily, not on the actual war as a whole, but on what the war meant. It was beautiful and brought a new aspect to a war film that I have personally never seen before.
This film would have worked, but without George McKay’s absolutely stunning performance, I do not know if it would have worked this well. McKay’s incredibly nuanced and enigmatic performance is riveting throughout the film. He blew me away with how well he acted in this film. There is very little dialogue throughout the film, but McKay proves to everyone that less might be more in this situation. His performance is eerily similar to Leonardo DiCaprio’s in The Revenant, just the movie around him is much better than for Leo. He gives a very physically demanding performance, while also not having the ability to mess up too often, and he embodies what a soldier of the time had to embody. He was a soldier first and man second, and you could tell how much it was breaking him throughout his journey. His performance was beautiful and meaningful, and even late in the race, he is making a strong case for Awards recognition.
Technically this film is a work of art as well. The technical side of things is what everyone expected to be the standout, and even though there is more to this film than the tech, it still is a major standout. Roger Deakins absolutely controls the camera in this film. Because the film is a one-shot, the lighting and production design has to be set up long before the actors and the camera actually reach it. The ability to achieve this. especially out in the open and during the day sequences, is magnificent and something unseen before. Thomas Newman’s score is also poundingly brilliant. It is one of the most cinematic and beautiful scores I have ever heard. There are two separate scenes where the cinematography and the score match up perfectly and everything I love about cinema came to fruition. It was something I have never felt before in my entire life, and it is a feeling that will stick with me as long as I live.
This film forced me to think and to dream about film. It gave me something I have never felt before in the power behind and in front of the camera. All around, this film is a magnificent work of art that deserves to be seen on the biggest, loudest, and clearest screen possible.
Final: More than just a technical masterpiece, 1917 is a cinematic one as well. This absolutely gorgeous film is breathtaking from start to finish. The “one-shot” is pulled off exceptionally, thanks in part to George McKay’s career-defining work. Sam Mendes crafts the best and most brutally honest look of actual warfare there is. Roger Deakins absolutely nails the cinematography and Thomas Newman crafts one of the best scores I’ve ever heard. I don’t know if anyone has made a World War I film before and after this… I don’t know if anyone else will try. War is hell, and this film is a testament to that. This is not only one of the best films I’ve ever seen… it might be my favorite.
My Score: *****
Current Tomato Score: 93%
Current Metacritic: 84
Current IMDb: N/A