Having seen nothing from Sam Mendes’ filmography besides American Beauty and Skyfall, and not even planning on seeing this film at all, I didn’t exactly know what to expect going into 1917 and honestly, I wasn’t even enthusiastic about the film. I had seen the trailer and deemed it to be a Dunkirk repeat and a film that only separated itself from it’s inspiration and predecessors through a one take gimmick. With low expectations and a blind perspective to the plot, I found one of my all time favorite films.
1917 blew my away in every way possible. After two screenings within the past week, the film still lingers in my thoughts. Sam Mendes’ has made the best film of his career and possibly one of the best films of the decade with 1917. The film is a beautiful musing on the horrors of war that takes its gimmicks and runs with them.
The technicality of 1917 absolutely soars and establishes the film’s place in the canon of experimental war films of the 21st century. The one-take gimmick doesn’t feel like much of a gimmick at all. Like other one take Best Picture favorite Birdman, the film uses it’s camera technique to enhance the story and create an experience that is immersive and allows the viewer to connect with the narrative in a different way. The rapid camera movements in the exposition are claustrophobic and almost nauseating, laying the grounds for two hours of endless anxiety. The one-take goes hand in hand with Roger Deakins’ cinematography to create a terrifying juxtaposition of beauty and the horrors of war. The camera is never static, just as the visuals are never boring. Every shot conveys a variety of emotions, like a wave washing over the audience. Everything is felt and everything is shown.
The film’s performances are subtle and nuanced, leaving just enough emotion to carry the intense plot. George McKay and Dean-Charles Chapman have impeccable chemistry and form a bond that not only carries the plot but adds heart to it. Their friendship is entertaining and offers insight into their characters lives beyond tragedy. Richard Madden owns his performance as one that is reserved yet moving. His screen time isn’t long enough for him to get any nominations, but it is nonetheless emotionally reasonating.
Thomas Newman’s haunting and dark score build tension and makes the scenes feel like a moving renaissance painting. “The Night Window” plays over a dark visual of a burning church as flares illuminate only the cracks and creases of Schofield’s surroundings. As the track escalates, the scenes tension levels go through the roof to create a wholly beautiful scene. The score on it’s own is still able to capture it’s intense and nightmarish feelings. Repeating use of melodies, along with the final shot of the film, make the narrative come full circle, ending the film with a satisfying ending that leaves just a dash of emptiness in the viewer. Like many, I was surprised to see this film win big at the Golden Globes, but it’s deserving of every award and a little more. 1917 is an incredible achievement in both technical and narrative ability. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that has heart just as much as it has isolation. It is a film that will shake you to your core, break your heart, and move you all at once.