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1917 Movie Review | Sam Mendes & Roger Deakins breathtaking, real-time & visceral look at trench warfare

  • 9/10
    Critic's Rating - 9/10

“Hope is a dangerous thing.”

1917 – the name itself cries for being one of the years during the First World War (or The Great War). The British master “Sir” Sam Mendes has helmed terrific features such as American Beauty (1999), Road To Perdition (2002), Jarhead (2005) and the Bond movies Skyfall (2012) and Spectre (2015). It was the excellent, darker & rooted Bond film Skyfall which introduced me to this guy, however, I was underwhelmed by the sogginess of much-anticipated Spectre. He returns after four long years to direct a war movie..

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1917 has already garnered super-duper attention this awards season. Well, it has 10 Oscar nominations (highest after Joker) & 9 BAFTAs nominations (3rd highest nominations), let alone the numerous lists of critics circles & boards it has topped. It has won Best Director in both Golden Globes & Critics’ Choice Awards. However, with movies like Marriage Story, The Irishman in the mix, it is in the tough group to crack as the Best Movie (it did get in Golden Globes though).

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One of the major names associated with the movie is cinematographer Roger Deakins (well known for collaboration with Coen Brothers, Denis Villeneuve & Mendes) who needs no further introduction – he has 15 nominations as Best Cinematographer with 1 win so far!

The most astonishing feat is the one-shot continuous camera movement which grips the audience and the hearts are pumping with every breath and every step the characters take on screen.

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The whole idea of 1917 is to put the viewers into the shoes of the British soldiers fighting in World War 1. The young soldiers Blake (Dean Chapman) & Schofield (George MacKay) are ordered by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to deliver a message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) since all communications lines have been cut. This message is aimed to stop an attack planned by British forces on retreating Germans – not realising that they were walking into a trap. Blake & Schofield have a daunting task to cross the now-abandoned no-man’s land and traverse the unknown unoccupied territory, reach the location of Mackenzie’s battalion and stop the attack before dawn. At first, the two soldiers are overwhelmed as they are unaware of what lies ahead. Without wasting time, they find themselves in a battle against time to save the 1600 men from an impending massacre.

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And their quest begins through the long and narrow trenches of the British front line. In the midst of this array of confusion they have to bypass all the thoughts, incursions and focus on the mission & the clock. To cover the chaos yet describe it beautifully, the camera angles are rotated at 360 degrees from time to time. This offers views an immersive look of the changing frames every movement – and with it the changing surrounding, the changing terrain & the progressing characters when Blake and Schofield are in motion.

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What it magnificently & harrowingly depicts is a feat worth noticing: the filth of dead bodies of soldiers, civilians, cows, horses, the buzzing sound of flies, the craters due to explosions, the mud and the mice, the ripped-apart organs of soldiers, the endless mesh of barbed wires in no man’s land are viscerally covered with the low altitude camera so as to make audience get into the real battleground imagery of world war one. The dance of the camera and the mechanics have to be in sync to present all facts in unison. The constant evolution of landscapes – trenches, fields, river, destroyed town, farm keep the progress of story on track with real time.

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Even though it’s a war-action based & technically driven movie which lacks character development given the real-time essence, it was able to steal some moments when soldiers discover humor and dream to go home to be with their spouses, parents, siblings. There are essential elements from Paths Of Glory, Dunkirk, Saving Private Ryan in the movie. The third act is unpredictable with the last 15 mins elevating the movie at an unprecedented level, offering a satisfying conclusion.

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Sam Mendes’ masterful one-shot style & race-against-time direction powered by veteran Roger Deakins’ cinematography of European fields & battlegrounds deliver us a breathtaking, neatly-stitched piece & one of the greatest war movies ever made. Mendes & Deakins have a fine shot at Best Director & Best Cinematographer Oscar this year.

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Lawrence Of Arabia, 1917, War Horse, Paths Of Glory, All Quiet On The Western Front definitely serve as the top 5 World War One movies.

About the author

Vipul Singh

An ardent cinephile who considers movies not only as an entertainment but an experience envisioned by the creative minds, put together by brilliant people. Sometimes the "reel life" teaches you more lessons than the "real life".

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