A review of the Sam Mendes film “1917”

Director Sam Mendes stunned cinema-goers with his opening sequence for the James Bond movie “Spectre”, set during The Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, when it appeared to be shot in one take of seven minutes (actually done in three shots). In retrospect, we can see that this was just a trial run for Mendes since the hugely ambitous “!917” appears to be a single take for the entire two-hour film (it isn’t, of course, but most viewers will not spot the cuts).

The most impressive cinematic work that I have seen that does truly involve just a single take is the oddly captivating “Russian Ark”. In “1917”, the single-take approach gives the work powerful tension and the viewer strong engagement in what is a genuinely immersive experience. The technique enables the narrative to appear to run in more-or-less real time to represent a matter of hours in April 1917. 

The plot – inspired by stories told by Mendes’ grandfather who served on the Western Front in the First World War – involves British Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Scofield (George MacKay) – being instructed to cross ‘no man’s land’ and abandoned German lines to reach 1,600 British troops – including Blake’s brother – intending to launch a dawn attack in ignorance of a German trap. The power of the story is helped by the casting of two leads who are newcomers, but there are brief camees from Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbach.

Interestingly, although we do see odd Germans, we never really view their faces – they are an anonymous enemy.Will the two lance corporals reach the attack zone in time and will they be able to prevent a military massacre? The production design (Dennis Gassner) and cinematography (Roger Deakins) are brilliant and some scenes are almost surreal (notably the nighttime sequences).

The blasted wasteland, the clinging mud, the huge water-filled craters, the stripped tree trunks, the carcasses of man and horse everywhere, all represent a Dante-like nightmare as the odyssey unfolds and one challenge follows another. Unfortunately the dialogue is sometimes stilted (Mendes himself was co-writer) and some of the scenes are a bit hackneyed. But overall this is a cinematic tour-de-force that will leave the viewer exhausted rather than exhilerated. 


XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>