Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Film: '1917'

This is an extraordinary achievement, its principal characteristic of something remarkable being that it gives the impression of being shot by a single camera in one continuous, uninterrupted take in real time.  It's not easy to detect the 'joins' (though why should one want to?) except for one point in the story when the screen necessarily fades to blank for a few seconds. And the 'real time' concept doesn't work for a film fractionally under two hours long, when it shows daytime then night, followed by dawn arising back to full daylight. But these points are minor distractions in what is a gripping, high-tension drama from first to last.

Story is set near start of final stages of First World War in northern France, though the outcome and its timing is as yet far from clear. As part of a scenario which appears to reveal the German army may be starting to retreat, it seems that an entire contingent of 1,600 British troops could be walking into a trap devised by the enemy, lured into thinking that the Germans are retreating from a particular site, when the plan is actually to ambush the British into wholesale slaughter. There is no available means to convey this intelligence to the commander of the intended victims other than to take a hand-written order to halt the projected British advance. Two lowly lance-corporals (Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) are selected (volunteered?) to carry this written order through a route of many hazards, including enemy fire, in order to prevent the massacre just a few hours hence - among whose men would be the brother of one of these messengers..  

Their mission is gripping from the very start - assisted by a most effective, insistently pounding, barely conscious, background score - traversing obstacle after obstacle, never knowing if there'll be an enemy gunman or sniper just over the next rise or hiding in a bombed-out ruin - and there are.   

I was steeling myself for the sight of dead horses in this - and so there are two or three near the start of the mission (and one dead dog later) - as well as quite a number of human corpses in various states of putrefaction, including swollen up bodies of the drowned. But of course such is the brutal and hideous reality of war.

Director Sam Mendes (who earned an Oscar in 1999 for 'American Beauty) is again short-listed for this, and he may well get it, though smart money seems to be on this being Tarantino's year. Mendes has made a film here which really does take the breath away. He also gets terrific performances from his entire cast, which include briefish appearances from Colin Firth and Benedict you-know-the-rest. 

It's one of those films that puts one through the wringer, a perfect antidote to any who may still be looking on war as somehow glorious and brave - not individual soldiers, I mean, but the concept of war solving anything at all. It truly knocked the socks off me..............8.

(IMDb.................8.7 - Rott.Toms.........4.5/5 )

  

13 comments:

  1. as you know - I enjoyed it very much. From the first times I saw the preview, I did not think I would. I love being nicely surprised like that.

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    1. Yes, having had my own fill of war films I had been determined not to see any more. However the trailer looked intriguing, particularly the way it was filmed, and I only went because of that - and, like you, had a highly satisfactory experience in taking the opportunity .
      Btw: There's some controversy going on here as to why the trailer had to show what turns out to be the film's most climactic moment. I think it's a good point, and it's rather unfortunate. Mendes himself has said that he doesn't have any control as to how trailers are compiled.

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  2. I don't know about war films; I've never felt the desire to see them. But this one sounds intriguing from a filmmaker perspective and maybe that might sway me? I dunno ….

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    1. As I say above in my reply to Blobby, Bob, I thought I was done with war films, but very glad I made an exception for this one, which is quite something to marvel at. I do strongly recommend it, though for some brief scenes you'll need a strong stomach, though these are not dwelt on unduly.

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  3. I really enjoyed this one too. An original view of a war movie, that surprised me too. The two main actors did a great job and Sam Mendes should be commended for his writing and directing.

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    1. It was good ploy not to have big names for the two principal roles, Poppy. Really innovative film-making for which, in my personal view, Sam Mendes ought to be recognised with an award more deserving than some of his co-nominees in both BAFTAs and Oscars.

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  4. I will definitely be waiting for this to come round. I value your high rating of it.

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    1. Quite unforgettable, Carol. You'll be pleased that, despite its gruelling nature, you made the effort to catch it.

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  5. I have not got time to see it this week but I will try on friday

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    1. Hope you can make it, JayGee. Shouldn't have any regrets.

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  6. Saw this earlier this week and was gripped throughout. Agree it was a good move not to have big names in the main roles as it would have unbalanced the film. River sequence filmed not far from where I live on the River Tees,

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    1. Was that really the Tees, N? It's near where I grew up - in Middlesbrough (where you possibly saw this film?).
      I should have got the clue from your name, staring me in the face, that you are in that part of the world, but I missed it.
      Pleased you liked the film which will, I've no doubt, come the end of the year be one of the stand-outs of 2020. Hope it's handsomely recognised in the upcoming awards season.

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  7. It was filmed on the Tees Barrage water course to provide a controlled environment to make it less dangerous for the actor/stuntpersons. Spot on, saw the film in Middlesbrough, my home town. And, I agree, the film deserves all the awards that may come its' way.
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