Tuesday, January 28, 2020

[Review] 1917

War is an unforgiving hellscape of horrors and tragedy, and Sam Mendes’ tumultuous and riveting 1917 brings us directly into the fiery muck. 

The plot focuses in on a pair of British soldiers (played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) as they’re ordered to deliver an important message to another battalion while finding one of their brothers — all before the morning dawns. 

Commendably, the film develops in real time and sustains the appearance of one continuous, unbroken shot (like 2014’s Birdman, but with much more death). Not only is this an impressive feat, but it also adds a major sense of urgency to the events. It’s intense and immersive. Gritty and uncompromising. There are treks through sprawling trenches of mud and despair, risky journeys across fields of dead bodies and landmines, and harrowing fights for survival amidst perilous shootouts and explosive battles.

The cinematography is stunning and it’s bombarded with potent scene after potent scene. There’s a particularly haunting nighttime sequence where the main character frantically runs for his life under dilapidated structures, and the only light to guide him is the flares of bombs. The battlefields look like a “Walking Dead”-esque dystopia, with bleak grey skies and rough terrains of dour browns—as if the soldiers are trudging through the shit on multiple levels. 

George MacKay gives a great performance at the center of it all. This is as much a strenuous hero’s journey as it is horror film set on the frontlines of war. But for all the chaos that comes with the territory, the majority of 1917 thrives on quietly devastating  moments and emotional turmoil that’s as heavy as the gear the these soldiers carry on their backs.

Throughout the film, there are symbolic images of beautiful white Cherry Blossoms blooming in the fields, and all you can do is hope that they don’t end up covered in blood. 

* 9/10 *