Mendes flexes his directorial muscles in this heart-in-mouth, stunning depiction of the horrors of the Great War; 1917 is a one-shot masterpiece.
From the get go, there are zero thrills with this film; an unflinching documentation of the horrors of trench warfare, combined with jaw-dropping cinematography. It truly is a cinematic masterpiece, visually unparallelled to anything made on the First World War before. Viceral and uncomprimising, Mendes does not shy away from showing us comfy viewers in our plush cinema seats what young boys fresh out of school had to endure over 100 years ago.
Following two young soldiers throughout, 1917 tells the tale of a suicide mission given to the soldiers across enemy lines, to prevent troops walking into a massacre. Action starts instantly, with the two soldiers climbing over the parapet and into no mans land.
The heart-pounding tension begins right from the get go and remains until the very last minute.
The level of detail Mendes went to to ensure it was as accurate as possible paid huge dividends, as the film sidestepped cliché with aplomb. Each explosion was deafening in the cinema, so much so you yourself had to slightly recover before continuing your watch; you feel entirely immersed in a way we have not experienced yet before.
Using the single-shot technique, in which you make it appear to the viewer that the picture is filmed in one continuous shot, it encourages the feeling that your really there, and using clever angles and shots, you can feel the thick mud, smell the dead bodies (of which there are hundreds), and hear the rats crawling along.
Mendes is a fan of the single-shot style of directing, using it most notably in the opening scene of Spectre, but never before has he achieved it with such style and fluidity, whilst maintaining it throughout the entire picture.
In fact, we have never seen it done so well by anyone.
Echoes of Skyfall ring out through the film, and mostly because of the near perfect score composed by Thomas Newman, adding tension and melancholy in perfect amounts.
As with all great films, it is never just one person’s vision that creates it, and the work of cinematographer Roger Deakins is truly mind-blowing. Visually, no war film made to date matches this. And yes we are including Saving Private Ryan in that. The variety and depth acheieved in each shot is unparalleled, and the night scene towards the end of the film is possibly one our favoruite scenes from any film.
In an almost apocalyptic setting, the scene plays out with Lance Cpl. Schofield, played by George MacKay, attempting to evade German soldiers in an obliterated town through a maze of fire, with the night sky illuminated with flares and explosions.
Scarce of much script, the movie leans on the cinematography heavily, but thank God Deakins is at the helm. To create the incredibly complex night scene, he constructed a minature model village, to map out exactly what flares need to go off where, which fires need to be lit, whilst the camera is tracing the actors running, so he is in darkness and light in equal measure.
Nothing is coincidental, and yet it feel utterly effortless. If the Oscar goes elsewhere we will be shocked.
What strikes you initially is the pure sense of scale; trenches that go on for miles and miles, thousands and thousands of men squeezed into the mud, sharing the undergrowth with the rats, the meticilous detail to every extra. No expense was spared and it adds to your complete submersion into what your watching.
Honesty is what underpins 1917, and also family, with the film being loosely based on Mendes’ grandfather, who fought in the First World War. A desire to be true to history and retell the true tragedy and wastage of human life; it is a mark of a great film that despite the grandeur and size of the production, the individual sentiment and emotion remains very hard-hitting.
Similar to that of Dunkirk, the script in this is fairly minimal, and raft of stars Mendes recruited for the film spend a collective five minutes on camera; and you don’t miss them either. The cameos are cute, but rather unnecessary; the film was carried by mainly one actor, and mainly through facial expressions.
1917 is a war epic we didn’t know we needed, but now, we struggle to see any other way of bringing warfare to the big screen. For all the razzmatazz surrounding ‘The Big Two’ (Tarantino and Scorsese), Mendes has quietly reminded them there are other players at this year’s Academy Awards, and frankly, he has wiped the floor with them.