Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Movie with Abe: 1917

Directed by Sam Mendes
Released December 25, 2019

There is a certain senselessness to war that finds ordinary people thrown into an extraordinary situation in which they are shooting at and killing each other to achieve some greater purpose. Seen from a distance, it can be easy to dismiss a war or conflict as unnecessary and avoidable, but when soldiers are on the front lines, it’s not possible to choose to walk away or decide not to move forward since there might be an opposing army just a short distance away whose numbers are just as determined to hold their defenses. It’s hard to truly understand that moment without being in it.

In 1917, two British soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) are tasked by their commanders to get a warning message to another division about to launch an attack on what they believe are retreating forces. They are told to walk through their brigades and into unknown enemy territory, accompanied only by each other and the gravity of what they must convey to spare their fellow soldiers from falling victim to a trap. Blake and Schofield have no idea what they’ll find as they continue, but they have no choice but to continue moving to reach their crucial destination.

This is an incredibly immersive film, one that stays with its protagonists for the entirety of its runtime thanks to the focused cinematography by Roger Deakins and subtle editing by Lee Smith. Composed as one shot, this film presents an incomparably intimate war story, an unflinching portrait of two soldiers who must fearlessly march towards an unknown fate, staying straight except for when something occurs outside their field of vision and they turn to look at it. It’s a very effective decision, one that strives to capture the inescapable reality of war and the bravery of these soldiers in a film inspired by stories told by director Sam Mendes’ grandfather Alfred about his own experiences.

This is the eighth film from Mendes, who made his directorial debut twenty years ago with “American Beauty.” After a foray into James Bond with “Skyfall” and “Spectre,” Mendes is back to serious drama with this compelling and harrowing production. Teaming with a truly competent group including Deakins, Smith, and composer Thomas Newman leads to a rich and stunningly powerful result. Chapman and MacKay are excellent, and brief appearances by Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Richard Madden enhance rather than distract from the lonely landscape. This film is poised to win many awards, and this effort surely deserves them.


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