1917 review: modern, flowing and phenomenal

By James Cannell

This means war: the poster for 1917

Sam Mendes’ 1917 is a masterpiece of artistic cinema with a tyrannical focus on cinematography. Its dramatised narrative and gut-wrenching performances are a solid reminder of the woes of war and a beautiful revitalisation to the war genre.

The Academy Award-winning film seemed destined for glory, with a cast list that could pack a punch harder than an artillery cannon. Unfortunately, each round of A-list ammunition seems to be locked, loaded and fired before the audience are given a chance to even recognise them.

The casting of George MacKay and Dean Charles Chapman as leading protagonists is ideal. It is uncommon to find such young talent to portray the reality of war, their desensitised opinions are both a breath of fresh air while also disturbingly calm to the whole situation.

The heightened pace of the film leaves little time for questions, and none for answers. Colin Firth’s character announces “your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow’s attack” and that’s it; we’re away. Anyone in the audience with their hands up, wondering why they couldn’t just drop the message by plane, or send more than two boys will just have to keep puzzling.

Nevertheless, the film itself is such a spectacle we can overlook its blatant audience manipulation. Just as advertised, it delivers a seemingly flowing, uncut single shot. While you’re sitting there, with your hand up, waiting for your answers, you might want to try spot one of the 34 or more hidden cuts throughout the film.

1917 trades in the traditional war movie tropes in favour of a cinematic marvel, blending the tragedy of war with the glorifying immersion of the drama. The characters that are in the film for more than three minutes are genuine characters, ones who you believe to have families and loved ones. You cannot help but route for them.

Ironically some have criticised the British/American produced film, that focuses on two British soldiers fighting for the British and following the British ideologies of the time for being too British. The criticism that the film is nationalistic isn’t an arguable point, but rather a quintessential part of it, you cannot portray a British-centred film by focusing on the rights and wrongs of both sides.

Mendes’ snapshot of the First World War is far from perfect, however its pace and immersion leave little argue with. The acting plunges its audiences into the reality of war while waterboarding them with the kind of graphic detail we have come to expect from the genre.

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