1917: A Cinematic Artwork Of War

by Ben Martin

Director Sam Mendes (who is responsible for a beautiful film that most don’t know is based on a graphic novel, Road to Perdition) has always had an incredibly distinctive cinematic style. Visually, Mendes has always been able to capture the profound beauty of darkness and light better than most filmmakers ever have. The director’s style is so strong, in fact, that he was allowed to apply it to his duo of James Bond films, Skyfall and Spectre. A point worth mentioning because, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Bond franchise is notorious for not letting its directors stray from its established look. I believe that the reason Mendes is an exception to such a rule is because he’s an incredibly talented technical storyteller.

His latest effort, 1917, is undoubtedly his most significant technical achievement to date. 1917 is based on the stories told to Mendes by his great-grandfather, Alfred H. Mendes, regarding his experiences during World War I. As such, the film is set on an April day in 1917, when two British Army men, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are sent on a crucial mission. The duo must travel from their station on the Western Front to a distantly located army regiment to order them to cease plans of attack as it would lead them into a trap by the German army. The thing is: the soldiers only have twelve hours to make this journey.

This film has been nominated for a slew of awards, including the Best Picture Oscar. Do I think it deserves that coveted nod? No, absolutely not; however, 1917 is a marvel, at least from a technical standpoint. Everyone remembers the artistry and intensity of the opening of Saving Private Ryan (1998). Well, the entirety of 1917 strives for that impact for the majority of its nearly 2-hour runtime.
1917 is an expertly-crafted piece of work that’s predicated on a cinematic stunt. See, the film is shot to look like it’s one, feature-length take. This gimmick was enough to get my butt in a reclining theater seat to see if they could pull the “seamless” oner off. I’m happy to say that they did just that. Editor Lee Smith (The Dark Knight, Dunkirk) has edited 1917 together in such a way that it looks like he never cut it at all. The film in review is also one of the best-looking films of the year, thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049), who creates an immersive visual palette for what is already a film that you’ll feel like you’re inside of. For these reasons, 1917 is worth watching.

However, the gimmick of 1917 is also its drawback. While the film is visually-interesting on the whole, it also becomes quite draining after a while. That draining feeling is one that I’ve experienced during many war movies. But with 1917, such a sensation is ten-fold because of the “one-take” approach. It’s due to this draining that, once the film’s initial intensity wears off, it rarely returns because the film is very lacking in the narrative department. Again, this movie is spawned out of a stunt, not a story. I would recommend seeing 1917 in a theater, but only for its top-notch technical prowess. 

1917 is in theaters now.

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