Film Review: 1917 (2019)

Sam Mendes’ 1917 is undoubtedly an technically excellent film but the focus on format ends up detracting from the depth of the storytelling

“You’ll be wanking again in no time!
‘Wrong hand’.”

There’s no doubting the technical audacity of Sam Mendes’ 1917. With its ostensibly one-shot, real-time structure (with necessary caveats that it is neither), it is a bravura piece of film-making that elevates this movie from just your average Oscar-baity war flick (cf Dunkirk).

It is clearly a labour of love for Mendes, who directed, co-wrote (with Krysty Wilson-Cairns) and produced 1917, and whose grandfather’s own war experiences inspired the film. And its driving force, following 2 British soldiers tasked with delivering a vital message beyond enemy lines.

George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman are both hauntingly good as the young Lance Corporals and the chaotic hellscapes that they travel through – no man’s land, booby-trapped tunnels, deserted trenches, there’s a distinctly dramatic note to many scenes along their arduous journey to try and save their colleagues.

But there’s just so many of them, so many challenges to face, that work against the air of authentic ordinariness . Instead, there’s an extravagance that heightens the stakes unnecessarily, the push for constant action undercutting the reality of the very experience to which it is trying to pay tribute.

Throw in a supporting cast that is chockablock with famous faces who each cameo for a minute or so – Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Colin Forth, Richard Madden – and you’re further distracted. There’s so much that is good here, but I can’t help but wish Mendes had made 1917 a different way.

Photo: François Duhamel

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