Review: 1917 (15)

Written by Film

It is not often that a film reminds us that cinema is art. Without any Oscar-bait speeches to weight it down, this visual wonder feels like a ballad. Fluid, well-paced and deeply moving.

While several good movies this year have told original stories through smart scripts and powerful performances, 1917 is the only one worthy of being demoniated a technical wonder. In fact, director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall) masterfully utilises the tools at his disposal to create the illusion of one long, unbroken shot. Not only is this visually impressive, but it serves a purpose to the story, by creating a uniquely visual experience. For example, the limitation of the one point of view creates tension in the viewer, and is versatile to the different settings of the movie: in the trenches, due to the claustrophobia it seeks to mirror; and on the battlefield, by providing an obstructed view of the landscape, concealing any dangers that might be ahead. This allows the viewer to be fully immersed in the story, without being distracted by a senseless gimmick. In fact, the most admirable characteristic of this movie is that, while the creators were ambitious in what they purported to achieve, they never lost sight of why they were doing it in the first place.

Again, this movie was not made for the sake of the gimmick. In fact, the story is, while simple, crafted with attention and care. If the point of storytelling is to create empathy, then this movie exceeds any expectations, using visual means, rather than an elaborated plot, to capture its audience. The story follows two soldiers who, during World War I, find themselves in a dangerous rush against time. We are not told much about their life because, as they seek to complete a seemingly impossible mission, who they are is revealed through their actions. Sometimes it is not needed to know someone’s full story to relate to them.

George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman in 1917

Death, resilience, friendship. These are recurring themes in war films: however, here they are felt, rather than deducted. In fact, because this film fully takes advantage of all the elements of cinema, the cinematography is, of course, beautiful. Filled with memorably tragic images, the viewer is in awe of the compellingly realistic visuals up until the very last scene. And much like the direction, every shot was crafted with the purpose of weaving the themes through the whole film.

And now, a plea. From one film lover to another. This film deserves the biggest screen you can find. This is art, made for the medium of cinema: in the same way a painting wouldn’t be the same seen in picture, you should try to watch this movie as it was meant to be seen: on the big screen. If you can’t, that’s ok too. You will still enjoy it. But please, whatever you do, I implore you: do not watch this movie on your phone.

Rating: 5/5

Last modified: 12th January 2020

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