DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
SCREENWRITER: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
STARS: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Colin Firth
RUNTIME: 119 minutes
CINEMATIC RELEASE DATES: Australia (9th January 2020), Thailand (30th January 2020), UK (10th January 2020), USA (10th January 2020)
HOME ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE DATES: TBA
CLASSIFICATIONS: Australia (MA15+), Thailand (TBC), UK (15), USA (R)
Over the years the cinematic world has been blessed with some pretty amazing war films. Think of the sheer emotional nature of films like Schindler’s List and Hacksaw Ride or the epic sale of films like Saving Private Ryan and Pearl Harbor. It feels like it is the war genre when some of the truly great filmmakers of our generation have really had a chance to show us what they are capable of an that legacy certainly continues with 1917.
As a filmmaker Sam Mendes has certainly proved himself to be one of the most ‘intense’ of the modern generation. That intensity has been delivered with powerful drama and dialogue in films like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road while it also returned through the power of stunts and action with his trip into the Bond universe with Skyfall and Spectre. With 1917 Mendes manages to fuse both of his skills in drama and his style of action together in a way that results with a unique film that will go down as one of the finest in 2020.
Plot wise 1917 is quite basic. It is set during World War I in France and General Erinmore (Colin Firth – A Single Man) receives word that an Allied attack is going to be walking right into a trap set by the Germans. In a desperate bid to stop the annihilation of 1600 men he gives Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman – Game Of Thrones) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay – Peter Pan) a near impossible task. He asks them to go through the front-line and go behind the enemy line to deliver a letter that should stop the attack from ever happening.
In a lot of ways the style Mendes uses to tell the story is very similar to what Peter Jackson used with The Lord Of The Rings. The film itself entirely surrounds the impossible journey that the two embark on yet somehow Mendes stops the film from every becoming boring at all. Around every corner he places a new task and obstacle in the way of the pair and his idea of using a one-shot technique means that the audience is right there amongst the action. Whether it be urgently pushing past soldiers in the trenches, battling to swim against a raging river or coming under heavy enemy fire Mendes has the audience right there beside the heroes which only further enhances the suspense and intensity throughout the film.
Surprisingly the screenplay which Mendes co-wrote with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Penny Dreadful) also keeps the dialogue to the bare minimum. For a lot of the film the pair either use silence or brief but powerful dialogue to get some in-depth points across. At one point Blake and Schofield debate whether war medals really mean anything or not, and while some writers would let it take up five minutes of the film Mendes and Wilson-Cairns let both characters make their point within a minute. Likewise anything we learn about the two men is fitted nicely into some of the most natural dialogue you will ever hear on the screen.
Such is Mendes’ maturity as a filmmaker that he never allows the action sequences to ever take anything away from the drama of the film. Plane crashes and enemy fire occur in real time and while it does have the audience on the edge of their seat Mendes never allows it to over-shadow the film’s major storyline or detract from it.
I have heard some people suggest that the film would have been further enhanced if the two leads had been more recognisable actors, but I fail to see how that would have helped. Chapman and MacKay put in absolutely brilliant performances and there could be very little more asked of them. The two share some very poignant scenes together and in all honestly they carry the film throughout as the camera never leaves them. Very few young actors could pull off such an intense acting performance but these two seem to do it with ease.
1917 is one of those films that leaves you in complete stunned silence as you watch it. Mendes never allows his audience to rest, instead he takes them on the journey with his two heroes using camera angles we haven’t seen since The Children Of Men. Yes at times 1917 feels utterly claustrophobic but it is also a visual delight that will find its audience going through a range of emotions as they view it. This film is a true classic that will be savoured by true movie lovers.