Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Daniel Mays and Colin Firth
Soldiers Schofield and Blake (MacKay and Chapman) are given a mission with no choice but to accept it. They’re tasked with crossing No Man’s Land into enemy territory, tracking down a battalion of soldiers and prevent them from walking into a German trap. With less than 24 hours to do so, their job is emotionally compromised by the fact that Blake’s brother is one of the doomed men.
Filmed in long, sweeping sections engineered in such a way that the action looks continuous, director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins and their team have created a cinematically stunning piece of work. The meticulous attention to detail combined with pinpoint timing is simply astounding. The use of uninterrupted shots places the viewer amongst the action as the camera weaves gracefully through the muck and mud of the French battlefields. Whether it’s through the busy, winding labyrinths of the trenches, eerily deserted villages or the explosive action of advancing over the top, it’s an exhausting, relentless, visceral experience and an astonishing achievement in film making.
MacKay and Chapman are two instantly likeable leads and easy to root for as they begin their terrifying assignment. Thrown together almost by chance and bonding over circumstances beyond their control, the lads are driven by a dogged determination to complete their task. They’re the epitome of the underdog and they take you on an emotional rollercoaster as they struggle to find their journey’s end. The futility of the war they find themselves in is regularly showcased as more and more obstacles are placed in their way with glimmers of hope repeatedly extinguished.
Hollywood A-listers including Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott and Benedict Cumberbatch arrive sporadically to add some heavyweight clout, but were they needed? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had a Hollywood film minus the Hollywood stars? As enjoyable as it was to see them involved, their presence was slightly distracting and they could easily have been replaced by lesser known actors.
Regular Mendes collaborator Thomas Newman provides a chillingly haunting score keeping pace with the unrelenting action. The sound will make your teeth rattle and your ears bleed whilst the use of light during darkness in the final act is inventive and unsettling.
Probably best seen on as big a screen as possible, 1917 is a heart-breaking, draining watch and an undoubted triumph for Sam Mendes and everyone else involved in this epic adventure.
1917 explodes into UK cinemas on January 10th 2020.
Film reviewer for Time and Leisure Magazine, The Movie Waffler and We Are Cult.
Former actor (a regular in The Bill) and voiceover artist with Rhubarb Voices.