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1917 ★★★★★

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Director: Sam Mendes

Stars: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden

Released: 10/01/2020 (UK)

Sam Mendes returns to the horrors of war for the first time since 2005’s Jarhead with his audacious and ever-so impressive 1917.

Given an order to reach a doomed battalion before they are ambushed by a large German force, Lance Corporals Schofield (MacKay) and Blake (Chapman) attempt to make their way across no-mans land to reach them in time.

Filmed to give the impression of one continuous shot, 1917 feels like the culmination of each war-inspired film that has come before it. The plot hints of Saving Private Ryan, the urgency matches that of Dunkirk and the emotion and horrors captured on screen wouldn’t feel out of place in Full Metal Jacket or Apocalypse Now.

While the similarities in tone and topic may feel familiar – Mendes’ film stands alone in terms of on-screen style. It feels unique, and with cinematographer Roger Deakins’ meticulously planned shots crafting an immersive and intense environment it becomes quite the cinematic experience – In terms of technical craft, 1917 has raised the bar. The long-take has been created with such precision it’s near impossible to spot any edits, save one for the transition to night.

Yet technical precision alone isn’t the reason why 1917 is such a barnstormer. The performance of George MacKay as Schofield ranges from frenetic to forlorn in the blink of an eye – it’s a stand-out performance amongst the multitude of stars that make short appearances along his journey. Chapman too, is a strong support to Schofield’s starring role.

If there is criticism to be found in 1917 it’s that you can often find yourself marveling in its technical beauty that you almost forget to acknowledge what’s going on plot-wise. The big cut between night and day too is almost too obvious a break in the flow that it took a little of the momentum from the film, yet this can be forgiven as the sequence that follows is certainly one of the film’s stellar moments.

While 1917 is the definition of a film that must be seen on the biggest screen possible, Mendes has created a caring, emotional tribute to those involved in one of the worst times in recent history, acknowledging the human sacrifice on both sides of the trenches as well as those back at home, far from the frontline. All the while capturing the terror of war that many of us alive today, hope we never encounter.

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