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1917 (2019)

Directed by Sam Mendes

Written by Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Starring: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

In World War I, two soldiers (Chapman, MacKay) are tasked with a daring journey across enemy lines. If they fail in their missionĀ  1,600 men will die, including the brother of one of these young men.

Sam Mendes (American Beauty) took four years to follow up on Spectre, and he did it with a bang. This film hit the awards circuit and has consistently taken home some big prizes. In addition to the Best Picture and Best Director awards at the Golden Globes, this film earned 10 Oscar nominations. These nominations include Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director. Mendes shares screenwriting credit on this film with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (mmmmmmm). This is her first feature credit and earned her and Mendes a shared nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The cast of the film includes Dean-Charles Chapman (Blinded by the Light), George MacKay (Captain Fantastic), Colin Firth (The English Patient), and Benedict Cumberbatch (12 Years a Slave).

This is a very powerful story that seems a lot likeĀ Dunkirk, where the clock always seems to be ticking. The story begins with a simple and straightforward idea that can really only end in one of two ways. The writing does an excellent job of not only providing the bigger picture, but also letting us get close to our two protagonists. This limited familiarity allows for the film to create the feeling of a shared experience between the audience and the soldiers. The stakes are as high as they can be, and the tension creeps into the film early. Throughout the story the tension continues to build, rising to a crescendo at just the right moment. There are moments where the action ceases just long enough for the viewers to assess the situation and appreciate the contrast. The dialogue is limited and excellently written. There are no “when I get back home” speeches and the film generally avoids the kind of eye-rolling cliches that so many war films fall into. The film has great twists and turns and a powerful ending. While it’s not the clear leader, this one clearly earned the nomination for Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

This film features standout performances from two stars that most people don’t know by name. George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman both did excellent work with their roles in this film. Their performances are individually great despite being dependent on one another in a number of ways. They have good chemistry and both of them do well with the action sequences. They’re joined by some bigger names throughout the film. Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch are probably the two biggest names in this cast. With smaller parts these two men add great richness to the story. There are dozens of actors present throughout the movie who help to add texture and authenticity to the experience. It’s also easy to say that you won’t find a bad performance in the bunch.

With all of the bluster about the long takes and the editing work of this film, it’s important to understand that none of that overtakes the story being told. If you’ve ever seen films with gimmicky visuals and no story you might understand how quickly a gimmick can wear off. In this case Mendes chose to utilize specific editing and cinematography tools to enhance the tone of the story. The visuals are stunning and the well-planned action sequences come off wonderfully. Roger Deakins was nominated for Best Cinematography, and film also earned nominations for Best Production Design, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, and Best Visual Effects. The film also has an incredible score, composed by Thomas Newman (Skyfall), earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. In addition to the nominations for the visual work, the film was also nominated for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing.

This film does a great job combining technical expertise and genuine storytelling. It’s the kind of war film that rises above cliche and predictability. This is not an easy film to watch, as it takes on the horrors of World War I without flinching. If you’re a fan of Mendes you should check this one out. I would also suggest this one to fans of war films. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.

Rating: R

Rating Time: 119 Minutes


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