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Capturing the horror, thrill and chaos of war has been approached by many talented filmmakers throughout the years. Movies like Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper and Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan have defined the genre’s best entries. Now, American Beauty and Spectre filmmaker Sam Mendes has teamed up with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins for 1917, a technically-impressive epic about two British privates’ mission impossible across No Man’s Land.
Ahead of the film’s upcoming release during the packed holiday season, critics have screened the war movie and started to weigh in with their reviews. Overall, 1917 has detonated with positive impressions, but let’s dive into the trenches about the movie’s merits and shortcomings.
The story is pretty simple, and there are a couple of contrivances run into along the way, but 1917 primarily exists as a technical achievement, and in that capacity it is a true marvel.
It sounds like the visual approach is worth the price of admission all on its own! IndieWire’s Kate Erbland also raved about 1917 with these words:
The seams are always there — not just the classic narrative tricks used to build emotional connection (the brother!) or the hidden cuts in an ostensibly single-take stories (though, of course Blake and Schofield have plenty of opportunities to walk into full-scale darkness) — but even they can’t diminish the raw power of 1917, a vivid and wholly engaging epic that seems destined to join the canon of quintessential war movies.
1917 follows two young WWI soldiers (played by Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman and Captain Fantastic’s George MacKay) who are tasked with an important mission to deliver a message in a matter of hours across the battlefield in order to save more than a thousand soldiers from death. The film’s story takes place right as the United States enters the war effort against Germany. Chapman’s character takes on the mission with the motivation to find his brother.
Entertainment Weekly’s Leah Greenblatt especially praised the performances of the pair of main stars. Here’s what she said:
The film belongs to Chapman and more than anyone, MacKay, a 27-year-old Londoner with the long bones and baleful eyes of a porcelain saint or a lost Caulkin brother. His Lance Corporal Schofield isn’t just a surrogate Everyman; he’s hope and fear personified, and you couldn’t look away if you wanted to.
Some critics had some flaws to report about 1917, too, such as The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde. He felt the movie focused more on gripping the audience than tackling the complex topic of the war at hand. He said this:
As such, the movie is more successful as a thriller than as a thoughtful examination of war and its horrors; Mendes seems less interested in bigger ideas about the nightmare of battle and its effects on his characters than he is in Hitchcockian audience manipulation.
Additionally, for Polygon’s Matt Patches, the single-take technique felt more gimmicky than anything else, and left the film devoid of meaning. In his words:
Renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins shoots the hell out of each one, but each generic turn in the story feels like another part of a sleight-of-hand trick. What’s meant to be an epic film has the emotional heft of David Copperfield making an airplane disappear. But when a film is trying to evoke the full tragedy of war, ‘How’d they do that?’ is not a substitute for meaning.
But overall, it looks as if Sam Mendes’ 1917 is a praise-worthy cimematic achievement. The film currently has even debuted with a 89% Fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Check out Peter DeBruge’s thoughts in his review for Variety:
Mendes has found an original approach to a familiar subject, refreshing events from a century ago in a way that looks, sounds and feels absolutely cutting-edge… Astonishing as the filmmaking can be at times, it’s Mendes’ attention to character, more than the technique, that makes 1917 one of 2019’s most impressive cinematic achievements.
1917’s limited release begins on December 25 and expands to wide release on January 10, 2020. Are you excited to see the upcoming war epic? Sound off in the comments below.