Movie of the Week: 1917 (2020)

Sam Mendes directs George MacKay, Dean Charles Chapman and Mark Strong in this immersive WWI thriller were a pair of Tommies must cross No Man’s Land with new orders before a doomed attack is launched.

I wasn’t expecting this to be the best film of the year. Mendes always struck me as an overly precious director who had kinda fumbled his early promise. When you look back over his filmography there’s admirable stuff but none of it came close to the killer opening blow of American Beauty 20 years ago. Now a lot of 1917’s success is down to Roger Deakins… but you need a strong director to furnish one of the all-time greatest cinematographers the freedom to execute such an ambitious project. I saw a trailer for this openly explaining the film would feel like one seamless shot and the camera would swoop and swap through orchestrated location work. I was sold on a film where the camera would be a stuntman jumping from cranes to running steadicam to gorgeously composed tableaux. You ain’t ever seen anything quite like the ruins of the bombed-out village of Écoust-Saint-Mein dancing from the flares and fires of war. Mission accomplished. This is an immersive marvel matched only by Nolan’s similar Dunkirk. This film has better character work and the broader lapses into theatrical sentimentality feel reverential to the historical tragedy the film exploits. It is utterly gripping, switching from epic to intimate. Thomas Newman’s score manipulate us perfectly. George MacKay excels as the hero, an ordinary man of great courage who sensibly would rather avoid derring-do and medals if at all sensible. There are tons of nicely executed cameos from Brit stalwarts. Mark Strong feels especially well deployed. This absolutely wowed me, a masterful combination of set pieces, drama, reverential celebration and cinematic risk. We watched a matinee screening where some park bench drunks brought in their tinnies and barked and cackled and burbled inappropriately at the big screen. Their heckling and brain farts couldn’t diminish what an amazing movie this is.


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