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January 15, 2020

1917 (2020) --- “Time Is The Enemy.”


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Hello, Movie Buffs!
       On April 6th, 1917 in the British trenches bordering No Man’s Land, General Erinmore (Colin Firth) has learned that the German retreat is actually a ploy to ambush a planned attack by the 2nd Devons. It is a trap that will guarantee the massacre of 1,600 men. In order to stop the attack, Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Cpl. Blake  (Dean-Charles Chapman) are given a seemingly impossible mission: cross enemy territory and deliver a message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) to call off tomorrow's attack, potentially saving their fellow comrades - including Blake’s older brother Joseph (Richard Madden). The question is: Can they get there in time? Or are they already too late?
     Directed by Sam Mendes (Spectre, Skyfall) and co-written with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Penny Dreadful, Last Night in Soho), 1917 (2020) is an epic World War I film that is based, in part, on an account told by Mendes’ grandfather, Alfred Mendes. It’s been 100 years since World War I ended and its barley garners a mention in history books these days, largely in part due to Hollywood’s strong devotion to World War II films. Last year Peter Jackson did his part by releasing the stunning and raw documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, which gives a video and photographic look at the actual people involved in WWI, and now Mendes delivers another glimpse into almost forgotten time with 1917.
     The film’s biggest achievement is its stunning cinematography by Oscar-winning Cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049) and it’s incredible film editing by Oscar-winning Film Editor Lee Smith (Dunkirk), which are shot in a way that makes it seem like one continuous take, and for most scenes it was. The story is an incredible moment by moment tale that, combined with a real-time approach and Thomas Newman’s exceptional score, allows for the audience to feel the physical and emotional weight of Blake and Schofield’s mission. We experience the tension and horrors of war, feel the fear of the main characters, sense their urgency, and admire their courage. And yet while the camera always seems to be moving forward, rarely giving the characters a chance for respite, the film takes the time to remind us that despite all the horrors that war brings, humanity and hope can still prevail. It is intimately photographed work of art that walks through the valley of the shadow of death and will capture your attention from beginning to end. 
     The cast performances were solid and provided another area in which the audience can connect with the story. Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones as Tommen) as Lance Cpl. Blake and George MacKay (Captain Fantastic) as Lance Cpl. Schofield effectively carried the film with minimal dialogue. We spot the personality differences between them from the start. Blake is brash and always finding time to crack jokes but is also super focused and determined to save his brother because he understands the importance of completing the mission. Schofield is the character that the audience sees and relates to the most. He is no super-soldier and he doesn’t welcome the assignment at all, he is just a loyal friend and a dutiful soldier trying to stay alive and fulfill his orders. Their unspoken bond and the creeping terror in Blake’s determination to save his brother is what ties the whole film together. Along the journey, we come across some impressive cameos from a slew of notable actors, including Colin Firth (Mary Poppins Returns, Mamma Mia 2) as General Erinmore, Benedict Cumberbatch (Avengers: Endgame) as Colonel Mackenzie, Richard Madden (Game of Thrones, The Bodyguard) as Lieutenant Joseph Blake, Mark Strong (Shazam!, Dark Crystal Age of Resistance) as Captain Smith, and Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Spectre, His Dark Materials) as Lieutenant Leslie. Although each character appears only briefly and in their own time, they manage to leave a lasting impression.

     Overall, 1917 (2020) is a straightforward war film that is scaled to visually epic proportions and does for WWI what Saving Private Ryan (1998) did for WWII and Platoon (1986) did for Vietnam - provide a visceral depiction of the horrors of combat for those whose only frame of reference is from books and movies. The story is told moment by moment with long continuous takes that make it seem as if the story is told in real-time, and for a number of scenes, it is. The cast performances are incredible, especially from the two main characters, who manage to convey their fear and urgency in completing their mission successfully without having to use a lot of dialogue. 1917 is a highly suspenseful film that will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end, and its intensity is greater than that of most horror films.

Final Vote --- 10 of 10 stars

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