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1917  rating

Review: written 2020

Bold and epic cinematic telling of an intimate story


The year is 1917, and in a break from the trench fighting, two young soldiers are selected for an important mission that sees them having to make their way into enemy territory.

Sam Mendes has chosen a well-publicised experimental style of telling this story, filming as if in one continuous shot. It’s a masterclass in film making style, made all the more miraculous because it serves the story. Once the story develops, you’re not thinking about the style or how it was technically done – you’re simply immersed in a very real way into the emotional and physical journey.

There’s something dissatisfying about watching a technical marvel of a movie where you’re constantly reminded of the effects or technical feats – but this movie manages to make the whole experience feel real. It’s been a while since I’ve watched a movie on the big screen and felt quite so much that I’m there, physically present with the characters. And though with one break it is set in real time, we still manage to see a startling array of landscapes

There are some high profile cameos, which are the closest the movie comes to breaking its spell of immersion, but it’s George MacKay who really holds our attention, from first to last frame of the movie. His believable performance as an ‘everyman’ in WW1 grounds us in the reality. That’s not to say the reality is simply grim and brutal – there are moments of calamity and destruction which are stunningly beautiful – not just the epic trailer-defining shots of the movie as hordes of men go ‘over the top’ to rush into battle, but also notably Roger Deakin’s Oscar-winning cinematography capturing rare and startling beauty in a night-time ruined landscape, with some of the most extraordinary lighting I’ve ever seen in a movie.

Sam Mendes has brought technical and artistic expertise of the highest order, combined it with a believable adventure and emotional journey portrayed by great actors, and created what is quite simply a flawless masterpiece. If this doesn’t reach my top 10 movies of the decade I’ll be very surprised..


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