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 )
1 hour ago