1917 (Sam Mendes, 2019, US/UK/India/Spain/Canada)

1917 brings with it an awards-season MVP roster, from director Sam Mendes, to cinematographer Roger Deakins, to composer Thomas Newman. As such, it was not a surprise to see it receive numerous nominations. Yet the film stands on its own merit, not in the least because these elements gel together so well. Yes, Mendes' latest is a glossy Hollywood war film in many ways. But it also has a heart beneath the sheen.
     The central gimmick of the film - the fact that it is shot in one single take - is nothing original. Directors from Hitchock to Sokurov have made films using this technique. However, the technical mastery at work that allows the film to feel seamless and convincing is truly something new. The one-shot approach lends a first-person feel to the narrative, and doesn't feel forced. 
     That brings me to George Mackay. He is the heart and soul of the film. While some may complain that his soldier isn't given enough backstory or motivation, Mackey's eyes often tell us what we need to know about what is going on inside his mind. I was impressed by Mackey's tour de force performance in The True History of the Kelly Gang, but in 1917 he takes this intensity to entirely new level. Watching his transformation from a young man to a shell-shocked and haunted veteran is truly incredible.
     While some historians have complained about the accuracy of the film, in general 1917 does not present a sanitized version of the Great War. The violence and gore is truly apocalyptic and senseless. If taken with a grain of salt, the film generally works.
     Beyond Mackay, the other great star of the film is Roger Deakins, who transforms the French countryside into a truly otherworldly and apocalyptic landscape. His use of color and light plays off of Mackay's personal journey.



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