HOLLYWOOD─I will admit I’m not the biggest fan of war films because so many attempt to replicate what others excelled at in the past. I loved “Platoon” for its raw and grittiness, “Saving Private Ryan” haunts me each time I watch it because of the horrors my grandfather experienced during battle, and I was a huge fan of “Hacksaw Ridge.” It seems every year we get a war drama released at the multiplex, and 2019 is no different, however, it’s something unlike anything scene before in this genre.
How so? Director Sam Mendes, the guy who directed “American Beauty” and “Skyfall,” helms the fantastic “1917.” It is indeed an intense war drama about two soldiers on a mission to deliver a message to prevent a bloodshed and ambush on American soldiers. The narrative is quite simple, and that element alone is a fantastic premise to draw in the audience. With that said it is what is done behind the camera that excels “1917” as a cinematic masterpiece. Mendes manages to tell the narrative in what appears as a single shot; the action is constantly moving, making it hard to take your eyes away from the big screen.
Let me be clear, Mendes is not the first director to tackle such a feat. Alfred Hitchcock used the single shot approach for his 1948 thriller “Rope” starring James Stewart. Hitchcock in his approach used a track to keep the camera constantly moving around the set. It was made easy because the movie transpired in a confined setting. With “1917” that is not the case. The audience knows that the story is in constant motion, and that manipulation of the camera is unique. It is very difficult to master such an approach to filmmaking that gives an false reality of the action taking place in real time.
However, Mendes does it in a way where you feel absolutely immersed in the storytelling. You feel the chaos, you feel the tension, the suspense is palpable and you feel part of the movie in a way that not many movies invite the audience. Being a film critic and movie buff, I tried relentlessly to find that moment in the film where there was a cut or the editing is obvious. It is hard to find; which is a testament to seamless editing and stellar work behind the camera by Mendes.
The single-shot film is not the only bravo point of the movie it’s the long shots, wide shots, close-ups, pans and zooms that intensify the action. You have gunfire, you have explosions and the way Mendes plays with the camera to convey specific emotions makes this movie so entertaining and enthralling to the spectator. The movie absolutely tugs at your emotions, because there is a scene midway through the narrative that caught me by surprise and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I reacted to the scene different than I expected.
While the movie doesn’t have powerhouse names, its two leads: George McKay and Dean-Charles Chapman who portray Lance Corporal Will Schofield and Lance Corporal Tom Blake respectively. They’re soldiers asked to complete and impossible task and trek out on a journey where they’re uncertain of their future. There is also supporting roles by Mark Strong, Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch, but this is a movie that doesn’t rely on star power to draw you into the theater seat and it’s a welcome change in the cinematic universe.
At first I didn’t understand all the buzz behind “1917,” but after witnessing the movie first hand it’s something special. It’s not your typical war movie and in an industry where the number of films made sense the dawn of filmmaking is never-ending, when you see something unique in cinema, it always tends to stand out.