1917 Movie Review: Sam Mendes' movie is a masterclass on what a cinematic masterpiece looks like

1917 Movie Review: Sam Mendes' film is jam-packed with heart-wrenching acting performances by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman, ineffable cinematography by Roger Deakins which reaches legendary status thanks to the long take editing technique, catered with precision by Lee Smith. 
1917 is slated to release in India on January 17, 2020.1917 is slated to release in India on January 17, 2020.
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1917 Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

1917 Director: Sam Mendes

1917 Stars: 4.5/5

Before watching 1917, the Sam Mendes' ambitious project had already been awarded the Best Motion Picture - Drama at the Golden Globes 2020 which led to many scratching their heads as to how this World War I film managed to beat out favourites like The Irishman and Marriage Story. Afterward, I came across a split-screen video going viral which showcases the pivotal scene of George MacKay's character bristling across a mad-house battlefield, where British soldiers were being ambushed by German artillery and dead bodies were stacking up like Jenga blocks in comparison with a behind-the-scenes look at how the bone-chilling take was shot. But, nothing prepared me from the aesthetic experience that was 1917.

On April 6, 1917, two young Lance Corporals - William Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are assigned a suicide mission to hand-deliver an important message to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, while passing through enemy territory. The message was to call off a planned attack on the German troops in order to save the lives of 1600 soldiers. The stakes are considerably higher for Tom as his own brother is amongst the 1600 troops.

In what is a 'race against time' war saga, the trouble is brewing at every sharp turn and corner, Sam Mendes concocts a front-row experience to the horrors of a man-made war and the psychological effects it had on the young soldiers. Before getting to the technical achievements that everyone is raving about, 1917's heart belongs to George and Dean, who despite the limited character sketches, are able to add the emotional aspect which is very much yearned for in a war-centric movie. The duo delivers stunning performances, which isn't just expressive but physically defining as well. What is admirable is how big stars like Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden, Mark Strong and Andrew Scott don't mind second fiddling in 1917. Inspite of limited screen time, their presence is felt. While Andrew manages to pitch in a stellar comedic breather before the action overpowers everything else, Richard too, was impressive for just a five-minute sequence.



#1917Movie wins 2 #GoldenGlobes including Best Picture – Drama and Best Director – Sam Mendes.

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The acting performances are grandiose in nature, but it's Roger Deakins' ineffable cinematography and Lee Smith's distinctive editing (one long take feature film along the lines of Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman) that are the true heroes of 1917. Because of the long take technique, with a few deliberate cuts that don't distract you from the experience, there's a sense of raw intake to the torn apart battlefield that leaves the audience with goosebumps. It's almost like a video game experience as you follow these two young men in a deadly mission where nothing is warranted. The lighting in certain sequences needs to be seen to actually believe, particularly when we come to the bombed village of Écoust-Saint-Mein, where darkness engulfs the entire sequence and the lighting takes us across. That's not to disregard the production design, which helped irrevocably in the aesthetic pleasure, inspite of everything being in ruins.

While some may argue over the pronounced background score by Thomas Newman, surprisingly it worked for me as it helped heighten the already heightened tensions created by Sam Mendes' direction. Some may also delve upon how there really isn't a storyline in 1917 to grab on to, rather it is a technically driven film, which steals the thunder. While that may be partly true, Sam perfectly rectifies that by choosing a cast he could rely on to send across the message required.

ALSO READ: Golden Globes 2020 Winners List: 1917 Best Film, Joaquin Phoenix Best Actor; Fleabag & Succession win BIG

1917 is a dedication to Sam Mendes' grandfather Alfred Mendes, who accounted the story to the filmmaker. But 1917 goes way beyond just a dedication. It's a hard look at our past and how humanity eventually is the enemy within itself and continues to be one. It's also a masterclass on what a cinematic masterpiece looks like.

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