Monday, December 16, 2019

1917 - Movie Review

The Movie: 1917

The Director: Sam Mendes

The Cast: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Adrian Scarborough, Daniel Mays, John Hollingworth, Richard McCabe

The Story: Two young British privates during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier's brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.

The Review:
Sam Mendes is really good at making movies. His body of work includes some classic cinematic features including American Beauty, Road to Perdition, and Skyfall which I consider to be one of the best James Bond movies ever made. Even with that impressive resume, tackling an epic WWI story is no small task and especially when the plan is to make it play out like one continuous shot from beginning to end.

Of course, pulling that off would be next to impossible so some measure of movie making magic was employed, mainly filming several long, extended cuts and then seamlessly editing them together to make it look like the full two hours run time us one continuous shot. Extended takes are one of my favorite film making techniques for a lot of different reasons so it's like this movie was custom built for me to enjoy.

Letting the camera linger during action shots (Children of Men) or moments of conversation (Before Sunrise) gives a more natural and effective result over lots of choppy editing and cuts which fragment the emotions and tone. I feel like our brains accept this information in a more natural fashion because it's more similar to how we view real life. Cuarón, Iñárritu, Linklater, and Tarantino are experts at this technique which is probably why I enjoy their work so much.

What makes this movie work so well is the sense of urgency that slowly builds from the very beginning and doesn't let up for one single moment and all the way through to the end. The story is kind of similar to Saving Private Ryan in how the men are sent deep into enemy territory to complete a mission they will most likely not survive and all of the same grit and trauma is there on full display. Mendes takes great care not to make this movie an action spectacle just for the sake of action and violence, he shows the real consequences, the real deaths, and the real suffering that are always a part of any type of war.

The Verdict:
1917 is an achievement in film making and a milestone for Sam Mendes' career. This is a movie that should be on everyone's year end best of lists.

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