1917 (Film Review)

Directed by Sam Mendes, this offering from 2019 received ten nominations at the 92nd Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, and three wins, for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Mixing. This review is SPOILER-FREE!

The film follows two young British soldiers who are ordered to deliver a message calling off a doomed offensive attack. This message is especially important to one of the soldiers because his brother will be part of the attack.

Right from the get-go it’s nice to see a war film (or at least any offering from modern cinema) that is well lit. It seems that Hollywood has been suffering from a lighting problem the last few years, (that is apart from obsessing on their own sex scandals, virtue signalling, moral outrage and inclusivity quotas….. but lets not get bogged down in that swamp again) and this one is a solid production that fills those spaces.

The film delivers a constant shot right from the get go and makes the joins as seamless as possible. The film is framed as a series of continuous shots (the shortest being 39 seconds and the longest a staggering 8 and a half minutes!) in a truly epic feat of production.The cinematography is an absolute masterpiece to put it mildly. This form of delivery makes for an extremely immersive experience.

The set and location departments have recreated the horrors of the battlefields and the trenches painstakingly. It’s dirty and gritty and the attention to detail adds to the immersion.

Plot-wise this one is engaging but not at all complicated which is a major strength for the film. Inspired by a story recounted to Mendes by his Grandfather Alfred Mendes, the story is fictional but based on events that occurred.

It’s a grim journey from start to finish. The film doesn’t glorify war but at the same time it’s able to tell a poignant story without becoming preachy. The story takes a few organic breaks to allow hours to pass and is full of action breaks that allow those subtle edits and restarts

The soundtrack is atmospheric and layered with suspenseful pads. It fuels the tension even further and leans slightly on that scratchy dirge noise from the Nolan Batmans. There’s sweeping orchestral suites and distinct motifs that blend into thunderous brass ensembles.

The audience never feels safe, as there is always the unseen but looming peril of war that might reach out any second to affect the main characters. Theres a very real feeling of relentless danger. (For me this is the definition of anxiety)

On that note, the audience sees the world through their eyes. We discover the horror as it unfolds and the audience is given the information at the same time as the characters.

This is an enjoyable tale that sits well amongst the likes Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk. There’s a rich computer game narrative-feel to it, which could be the current over-saturation of the genre in gaming or the increasingly-immersive experience associated with it. Either way this is a fantastic entry into the halls of gripping cinema.


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