Dan's Review: "1917" is the best film of 2019
Jan 10, 2020 12:19AM
● By Dan Metcalf
George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman in 1917 - © 2019 Universal.
Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language.
Starring Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Mays, Adrian Scarborough, Jamie Parker, Elliot Baxter, Nabhaan Rizwan, George Verrall, Jamie Vaughan.
Written by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns.
Directed by Sam Mendes.
To suggest that Roger Deakins is the greatest living cinematographer is no stretch. Indeed, most cinephiles agree that his body of work is unparalleled, and not even Deakins himself could top his greatest work, having been nominated thirteen times for an Academy Award, finally picking up the long-overdue prize for his amazing work in Blade Runner 2049 in 2017. Enter Sam Mendes and his latest film 1917, a tense drama about two soldiers sent on an impossible mission during World War I. The result is a fantastic achievement in cinematography and perhaps the best film of 2019.
The film is shot in two continuous and seamless scenes without any breaks in the action. That means you see every interaction between LCpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and LCpl. Schofield (George MacKay) from the moment they receive their assignment from General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to the end of the movie in what looks like two takes (there are “invisible” edits throughout, or cuts that happen via special effects or when the soldiers pass behind an object or into a darkened scene). There is a moment when one of the soldiers blacks out after a close-range gun battle, awakening hours later and starting another continuous scene until the end credits. Along their journey the soldiers pass through “no-man’s land” or ground between the German and Allied front lines, to farmland and eventually a bombed-out city where they are supposed to locate the hawkish Col. Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) and deliver a message to stand down, preventing a would-be slaughter at the hands of the Germans who have set a trap.
1917 is an amazing cinematic achievement not only for Deakins’ brilliant camera work but also for the tension and investment into the harrowing story. You can feel a real connection to the soldiers on their quest as they pass through distinctive markers during their odyssey. Those markers include an encounter inside a booby-trapped German bunker, a crashed German pilot, a sniper, a French girl caring for a baby, a river full of dead bodies, and the troops they are intended to save.
1917 is absolutely the best film of 2019 and deserves to be remembered as one of the most ambitious works of cinema due to Deakins’ inventive methods. The continuous shots are not a gimmick, but a device to offer a new perspective on war and heroism; a view that is much more immersive than pointing a camera at the action. It’s a movie that becomes the action, a rare feat in filmmaking.