The Oscar race was blown wide open last week when Sam Mendes’ latest film nabbed him not only the Best Director trophy but the much-coveted Best Motion Picture (Drama) award at the Golden Globes. It beat favourites like The Irishman, Joker and Marriage Story to the top prize and now stands as a worthy favourite come early February.
Indeed, the British director strives for authenticity with 1917 and has crafted an epic yet surprisingly intimate war drama that is without a doubt his most ambitious undertaking to date. It makes a dent in the overcrowded war genre by chronicling the journey of two young British soldiers (Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay) who are tasked with navigating the trenches and delivering a life-saving message deep in enemy territory… All shot in one (seemingly) single, continuous take.
It’s hard to aptly describe the effect 1917 has – from the memorable action sequences to the relentless pacing – you need to see it (and on the biggest screen possible) to believe it. The unbroken, one-shot setup isn’t new and has been previously seen in recent films like Birdman or Utøya: July 22. It could have been a hollow gimmick, but is anything but. And unlike Dunkirk before it, 1917 has an emotional core that goes beyond technical mastery, even if it is undeniably low on plot. The formal technique galvanizes the storytelling, making the action even more edge-of-your-seat immersive because you are only allowed to see what the camera sees: your eyes constantly dart around the frame trying to ascertain where the next threat might lurk. Lensed by DP extraordinaire Roger Deakins – who is also heading toward inevitable nominations – the imagery and balletic camerawork is astounding. Coupled with the deafening sound design and a merciful absence of schmaltzy Oscar-clip moments that would have brought too much attention to itself, this truly gripping odyssey deserves to be a sure-fire winner at the Golden Baldies.
1917 | Directed by Sam Mendes (UK / US, 2019), with Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Daniel Mays, Andrew Scott. Starts Jan 16.
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