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Patricia Puentes

The 27 Most Anticipated Movies of 2022

the movie 1917 reviews

We can’t believe it’s already almost April either. But there’s still a lot of 2022 ahead of us and we thought about taking a renewed look at our selection of some of 2022’s most anticipated films, especially considering the calendar of releases has changed a lot in the last few weeks. 

Bear in mind that nothing is set in stone, so this isn’t a comprehensive selection. New titles will pop up as the new year unfolds. Plus, most of these titles are tentpole movies and/or sequels or adaptations from pre-existing franchises. Expect the year 2022 to be full of those, but also keep in mind that there’ll also be a fair share of must-see indie movies as the year progresses. It’s hard to know if 2022 will be the year that cinema-going returns to normal, or if we’ll all still be doing a lot of streaming at home for certain titles, while opting for the big screen for others. 

And yes, some of the titles on this list are movies that we were already looking forward to watching back in 2019 — ahem, Top Gun: Maverick .

Winter 2022: Movies That Have Already Premiered

the movie 1917 reviews

The 355 (January 7): This action-espionage ensemble stars Jessica Chastain as a CIA agent who joins forces with a German agent (Diane Kruger), a former MI6 ally who specializes in computers (Lupita Nyong’o) and a Colombian psychologist (Penélope Cruz) on a mission to recover a top-secret weapon. Bingbing Fan plays the mysterious woman who follows their every move. The 355 is now available on Peacock and on video on demand (VOD).

Scream (January 14): This is the fifth installment of the Scream franchise. Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette return to their iconic roles alongside newcomers Melissa Barrera, Kyle Gallner, Mason Gooding and Jenna Ortega. Twenty-five years after the brutal murders that terrified the small town of Woodsboro, a new killer dons the Ghostface mask and targets a group of teenagers. Scream is now available on Paramount+ and VOD.

Moonfall (February 4): Master of disaster and climate change advocate Roland Emmerich co-writes and directs this film that sees the Moon on the brink of colliding with Earth and annihilating our world. Halle Berry plays a former astronaut who partners with another astronaut (Patrick Wilson) and a conspiracy theorist (John Bradley from Game of Thrones ). Together they’ll try to save humanity as they discover our Moon is not what we think it is.

Death on the Nile (February 11): This new adaptation of a classic Agatha Christie novel has Kenneth Branagh directing and playing the lead detective, Hercule Poirot — the Irish filmmaker already starred in and directed Murder on the Orient Express (2017). This one has been postponed several times due not only to the pandemic but also because a prominent role in the movie is played by Armie Hammer. The movie debuts on Hulu and HBO Max on March 29. 

Uncharted (February 18): Based on the eponymous action-adventure video game series , the movie stars Tom Holland ( Spider-Man: Homecoming ) as Nathan Drake and Mark Wahlberg as Victor Sullivan. They both embark on an epic international adventure — Barcelona is prominently featured in the trailer — in the pursuit of “the greatest treasure never found.” Meanwhile, Nathan starts discovering new details about his long-lost brother.

The Batman (March 4): Robert Pattinson dons the cape and the pointy-eared mask in this new reboot of the bat franchise. Matt Reeves ( Dawn of the Planet of the Apes ) co-writes and directs the movie, which also stars Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Jeffrey Wright and John Turturro. Don’t miss our article on the hidden details in The Batman ’s first trailer and the movie’s inception and our full review of The Batman . 

Turning Red (March 11): Pixar’s first 2022 title is directed by Domee Shi, who won an Oscar for her short film Bao (2018). The movie follows the story of 13-year-old Mei Lee (voiced by Rosalie Chiang), who turns into a giant red panda every time she gets excited. Sandra Oh voices Mei Lee’s overbearing mom, Ming. Read our review of Turning Red here . 

Deep Water (March 18): Based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith and starring Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck, this is one of the titles that has been postponed several times because of COVID-19. De Armas and Affleck play a married couple who have an arrangement to keep their marriage afloat. But when their games turn into murder, things get messier. Highsmith’s source material offers a portrayal of the fake veneer covering American suburbia — let’s hope the film does too.

The Lost City (March 25): Sandra Bullock returns to her comedy roots starring in this action-adventure where she plays Loretta Sage. She’s a popular romance-adventure writer on a promotional tour with Alan (Channing Tatum), the model who has always portrayed Loretta’s main character: the hero Dash. When Loretta is kidnapped by a billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe) who wants to find an ancient lost city’s treasure from one of her novels, Alan decides to take the lead and rescue her as Dash would do. They end up in the middle of the jungle needing to work together to stay alive and find the ancient treasure before it’s lost forever.

Spring Movies 2022

the movie 1917 reviews

Morbius (April 1): Set in the same universe as Venom , Morbius stars the chameleonic Jared Leto as Dr. Michael Morbius. He suffers from a rare blood disease and, while trying to find a cure for himself and others, he ends up transformed into someone with an urge for blood and other vampiric tendencies. Watching the method actor Leto transform himself into a mindless creature may prove to be one of the most appealing aspects of the film.

Ambulance (April 8): Michael Bay produces and directs this film starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II ( Candyman ) as Will, a vet desperate to pay for his wife’s medical bills. His adoptive brother, Dany (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a professional criminal. When Will asks him for help, Dany enlists Will in a $32 million bank robbery. The two of them end up in an adrenaline-fueled chase through the streets of Los Angeles, inside of an ambulance driven by EMT Cam (Eiza González).

Downton Abbey: A New Era (May 20): First there were the six seasons of the television drama about a family of British aristocrats, their estate and the servants who allowed for everything to run smoothly. Then there was a 2019 movie too, and now it’s time for a film sequel: A New Era . Julian Fellowes, the creator of the show, returns once more here as the writer. And yes, the good news is that despite the dire health diagnosis the Dowager Countess revealed to her granddaughter Mary (Michelle Dockery) at the end of the previous movie, Maggie Smith returns to A New Era to hopefully dispense fresh doses of perfectly delivered puns. 

Top Gun: Maverick (May 27): The original Top Gun opened in 1986. Now, this sequel that’s been decades in the making follows Tom Cruise’s Maverick after he’s served more than 30 years as a pilot in the Navy. When he has to train a group of Top Gun graduates for an impossible mission, Maverick meets Lt. Bradley Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of his long-lost friend Goose. Expect spectacular aerial sequences and a lot of need for speed.

Jurassic World: Dominion (June 10): Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard return for this sixth installment of the Jurassic Park franchise and sequel to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018). Franchise originals Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern also star in this movie. Lightyear (June 17): Who was the Space Ranger who inspired the Buzz Lightyear toy from the Toy Story franchise? Chris Evans voices Buzz in this origin story that Pixar describes as a sci-fi action-adventure film.

the movie 1917 reviews

Elvis (June 24): Musical heavy-weight Baz Luhrmann ( Moulin Rouge ) directs and co-writes this biopic starring Austin Butler ( The Carrie Diaries ) as music legend Elvis Presley. The film also stars Tom Hanks as Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker. “The story delves into the complex dynamic between Presley and Parker spanning over 20 years, from Presley’s rise to fame to his unprecedented stardom, against the backdrop of the evolving cultural landscape and loss of innocence in America,” reads Warner Bros.’ official synopsis of the film.

Summer Movies 2022

the movie 1917 reviews

Minions: The Rise of Gru (July 1): Allow me the yellow indulgence since I’ve been a fan of these adorable polyglot creatures since I first saw Despicable Me in a movie theater back in 2010. This second prequel of the Minions origin story — and fifth installment of the Despicable Me franchise — is set in the 1970s and follows a 12-year-old Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) and his faithful army of yellow sidekick followers. 

Thor: Love and Thunder (July 8): This fourth Thor movie — the second one helmed by the New Zealander Taika Waititi — sees Natalie Portman returning as astrophysicist and Thor’s ex, Jane Foster. Waititi, who’s also taken writing duties for this film, has teased at its romantic components . The movie will also feature Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and Christian Bale.

Nope (July 22): After Get Out and Us , here comes the next psychological horror film written and directed by Academy Award-winner Jordan Peele. Details are still very much under wraps for this movie, which stars Academy Award-winner Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer and Oscar nominee Steven Yeun . You can read more about Nope and its enigmatic first trailer here . 

Fall Movies 2022

the movie 1917 reviews

Don’t Worry Darling (September 23): Olivia Wilde’s second feature film after she directed the outstanding Booksmart (2019) stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles as a married couple living in a utopian experimental community in the 1950s. Pugh plays a housewife and someone who fears that the company her husband works for may be hiding something. The movie also stars Wilde alongside Chris Pine, Gemma Chan and Kiki Layne.

Spider-Man: Across Spider-Verse (Part One) (October 7): After the multiverse-set Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film and was lauded for its diverse representation — the movie stars Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore) as an Afro-Latino kid who also happens to be Spider-Man — we really are looking forward to this Spider-Verse sequel. Not to mention, it’s one of several animated films we’re most excited about seeing this year. 

Black Adam (October 21): This eleventh installment in the DC Extended Universe is directed by the Catalan filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra and stars Dwayne Johnson as the titular villain. Pierce Brosnan and Aldis Hodge also appear in this Johnson-starring vehicle that could see him become Shazam’s archenemy. 

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (November 11): Ryan Coogler returns as co-writer and director of the much-anticipated sequel to his Black Panther (2018), the first superhero film to be nominated for a coveted Best Picture nod at the Oscars. Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba and Angela Bassett reprise their roles from the original movie. The multi-talented Michaela Coel ( I May Destroy You ) will play a new role in this sequel. To honor the memory of the late Chadwick Boseman, who played Black Panther in the original film, Marvel has announced that this movie won’t recast the titular role . Also, Thor: Love and Thunder and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever aren’t the only two Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to be released in 2022. There’ll also be Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (May 6).

She Said (November 18): Maria Schrader ( Unorthodox ) directs this adaptation of Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor’s book in which they relate their New York Times investigation into Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and abuse behavior. The exposé helped further the #MeToo movement. The film stars Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Patricia Clarkson and Andre Braugher.

Avatar 2 (December 16): Thirteen years after James Cameron introduced us to Pandora in Avatar , here comes the second installment of this story. Zoe Saldaña, Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver all return to Avatar 2 , alongside newcomers Kate Winslet, Vin Diesel and Michelle Yeoh. The franchise is expected to have five installments in total, with each new movie being released two years apart.

I Wanna Dance with Somebody (December 21): Naomi Ackie ( Small Axe ) plays the late singer Whitney Houston in this musical biopic that’s directed by Kasie Lemons ( Harriet ) and also stars Clarke Peters, Stanley Tucci and Nafessa Williams.


the movie 1917 reviews

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2019, War/History, 1h 59m

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Hard-hitting, immersive, and an impressive technical achievement, 1917 captures the trench warfare of World War I with raw, startling immediacy. Read critic reviews

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the movie 1917 reviews

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At a time when it seems as if cinema experiences a new technological breakthrough every few months, it's oddly comforting that moviegoers can still be hooked by a film that's presented as being one unbroken shot. Granted, it's not a new idea, but the concept of an extended single shot, whether the shot is meant to stretch for an entire movie, or just serve as the focus for an especially showy scene, still has the power to excite viewers on some basic level. “1917,” the new film from Sam Mendes , is the latest attempt at the feature-length single-shot approach, and its technical accomplishments cannot be denied. But the film is so obsessed with its particular technique that it doesn’t leave room for the other things we also go to the movies for—little things like a strong story, interesting characters, or a reason for existing other than as a feat of technical derring-do. Sitting through it is like watching someone else playing a video game for two solid hours, and not an especially compelling one at that.

As indicated by the title, “1917” is set amidst the turmoil of World War I and takes place in and around the so-called “no man’s land” in northern France separating British and German troops. Two young corporals, Blake ( Dean-Charles Chapman ) and Schofield ( George MacKay ), are awoken from what could have only been a few minutes of sleep and ordered to report for a new assignment. A few miles away, another company, one that includes Blake’s brother, has planned an attack to commence in a few hours designed to push the Germans back even further following a recent retreat. However, recent intelligence suggests that the retreat is a ruse that will land them in ambush that will cost thousands of British lives. With the radio lines down, Blake and Schofield are ordered to head on foot to that company in order to call off the attack before it can commence, a journey that will force them to travel through enemy territory. Of course, the two have been assured that where they will be crossing is safe enough, but the tension within the soldiers they meet as they get closer to the front, and the recent nature of the carnage they witness when they first go over the top, suggests otherwise. And yet, that first glimpse of the literal Hell on earth they must journey through is only a taste of what they have to endure—at one point, one of them inadvertently plunges a hand recently sliced by barbed wire into the open wound of a corpse and that turns out to be one of the less excruciating moments in store for them.

“1917” essentially wants to do for World War I what “ Saving Private Ryan ” did for World War II and “ Platoon ” did for Vietnam—provide a visceral depiction of the horrors of combat for viewers whose only frame of reference for those conflicts has been history books or other movies. This is not a bad idea for a film, but "1917" never quite comes alive in the way that Mendes presumably hoped, and much of the reason for that is the direct result of how he has deployed to tell his story. Now, I enjoy an extended single-shot sequence that exists solely for a filmmaker to show off their technical finesse, but if I were to make a list of the most effective one-shot sequences, they would be the ones that are so absorbing for other reasons that we don’t even register at first that they have been done in what looks like one long take. Take the famous opening scene in Orson Welles' “ Touch of Evil ,” for example. Yes, it is a technical marvel. But at the same time Welles was pulling off this trick with the aid of cinematographer Russell Metty , he was setting up the story and introducing several of the key characters quickly and efficiently. When he did finally make a cut, it came as a genuine shock.

By comparison, there is hardly a moment to be had in “1917” in which Mendes is not calling out for viewers to notice all the technical brilliance on display. Taken strictly on those terms, the film is undeniably impressive— Roger Deakins is one of the all-time great cinematographers and his work here on what must have been a fiendishly challenging shoot is as impressive as anything he has done. The problem is that the visual conceit can’t help but draw attention to itself throughout, whether it is due to the increasingly showy camera moves or the sometimes awkward methods that are deployed to camouflage the edits and which begin to stick out more and more. (Oddly enough, the most blatantly obvious method used to hide a cut—one of the characters being briefly knocked unconscious—is actually the most dramatically effective of the bunch.) Instead of gradually fading into the background in order to make room for elements of a more dramatic or emotional nature, the distracting technique remains front and center.

Granted, one of the reasons that the visual style ends up dominating the proceedings is because there isn’t really much of anything on hand here that has much chance of stealing focus. The storyline concocted by Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns too often feels like an amalgamation of such classic WWI films as "The Big Parade," “All Quiet on the Western Front” and " Paths of Glory ." At certain points, the story stops dead for brief appearances by familiar faces like Colin Firth , Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong in exposition-heavy sequences that feel exactly like the cut scenes that appear between the different levels in video games. 

“1917” is not entirely without interest. This was clearly a fiendishly complicated project to stage and execute and there are some scenes (such as an especially tense one set in a seemingly abandoned shelter that contains a few nasty surprises), that are legitimate knockouts. And yet, for all of its technical expertise, little of it helps viewers to care about the characters or what might happen to them. When all is said and done, "1917" is basically a gimmick film. If that is enough for you, you may admire it for its accomplishments. Personally, I wanted more.

Peter Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski

Peter Sobczynski is a contributor to eFilmcritic.com and Magill's Cinema Annual and can be heard weekly on the nationally syndicated "Mancow's Morning Madhouse" radio show.

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1917 (2019)

Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language.

119 minutes

George MacKay as Schofield

Dean-Charles Chapman as Blake

Mark Strong as Captain Smith

Andrew Scott as Lieutenant Leslie

Richard Madden as Lieutenant Blake

Benedict Cumberbatch as MacKenzie


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George MacKay in 1917, directed by Sam Mendes.

1917 review – Sam Mendes’s unblinking vision of the hell of war

Mendes’s first world war drama, filmed to appear as one continuous take, plunges the viewer into the trenches alongside two young British soldiers to breathless effect

F or the opening of his 2015 Bond movie Spectre , director Sam Mendes (who won an Oscar for his first feature, American Beauty ) mounted a memorable sequence set amid Mexico City’s day of the dead festival. In what appears to be a single continuous shot, the camera tracks a masked figure through crowded streets, into a hotel lobby, up an elevator, out of a window, and over the rooftops to a deadly assignation. It’s an audacious, attention-grabbing curtain-raiser widely hailed as the film’s strongest asset.

For his latest movie – an awards-garlanded first world war drama that has already won best picture honours at the Golden Globes – Mendes has returned to the lure of the “one-shot” format, this time stretching it out to feature length. Like Hitchcock’s Rope or Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman , 1917 uses several takes and set-ups, seamlessly conjoined to give the appearance of a continuous cinematic POV, albeit with periodic ellipses. The result is a populist, immersive drama that leads the viewer through the trenches and battlefields of northern France, as two young British soldiers attempt to make their way through enemy lines on 6 April 1917.

George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are perfectly cast as Schofield and Blake, the lance corporals enlisted to venture into enemy territory with a message for fellow troops poised to launch a potentially catastrophic assault. The Germans have made a “strategic withdrawal”, suggesting that they are on the run. In fact they’re lying in wait, armed and ready to repel the planned British push. Together, these young soldiers must reach their comrades and halt the attack – a race against time and insurmountable odds.

With meticulous attention to detail (plaudits to production designer Dennis Gassner) and astonishingly fluid cinematography by Roger Deakins that shifts from ground level to God’s-eye view, Mendes puts his audience right there in the middle of the unfolding chaos. There’s a real sense of epic scale as the action moves breathlessly from one hellish environment to the next, effectively capturing our reluctant heroes’ sense of anxiety and discovery as they stumble into each new unchartered terrain. This is nail-biting stuff, interspersed with genuine shocks and surprises. Whether it’s a tripwire moment that provokes an audible gasp, a distant dogfight segueing into up-close-and-personal horror, or a single gunshot that made me jump out of my seat during an otherwise near-silent sequence, there’s no doubting the film’s theatrical impact.

Yet for all the steel-trap visceral efficiency, it’s the more low-key moments that really pack a punch – those moments when we’re confronted with the simple human cost of war. As with Peter Jackson’s monumentally moving documentary They Shall Not Grow Old , 1917 works best when showing us the boyish face of this conflict; the pitiable plight of a young generation, old or lost before their time. It’s a quality perfectly captured by MacKay’s endlessly watchable eyes, which manage simultaneously to project ravaged innocence and world-weary exhaustion – fatalism and hope.

“Hope is a dangerous thing,” says Benedict Cumberbatch’s Colonel MacKenzie, just one of a number of small roles filled by high-profile actors happy to play second fiddle. It’s a line that mirrors the central refrain from The Shawshank Redemption , another humanist movie tinged with horror that seems to haunt Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ script. There are evocations, too, of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan , not only in the unflinching depiction of battlefield violence, but also in a plot device that sets soldiers searching for a brother in a desperate quest for redemption. In one of its more surreal (or perhaps transcendent) sequences, wherein a purgatorial night-time underworld is illuminated in a yellow phosphorescent haze, I was unexpectedly reminded of a dream scene from Waltz With Bashir , in which young men rise from the water, like ghosts walking among the living.

Throughout this Homeric odyssey, Thomas Newman’s pulsing score ratchets up the tension, travelling “up the down trench”, through the body-strewn carnage of no man’s land (a forest of wood and wire, bone and blood) and into the eerie environs of deserted farmhouses and bombed-out churches. Occasionally, we hear echoes of the rising crescendo of Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score; elsewhere, Newman’s cues are full of piercing melancholia mingled with distant threat.

In a film in which music plays such a crucial role, it’s significant that perhaps the most powerful scene is an interlude of song. Emerging from a river after a baptismal episode of death and rebirth, we find ourselves in a wood where a young man sings The Wayfaring Stranger. It’s an interlude that brings the characters and audiences together in silence, communally experiencing that still-small voice of calm that lies at the heart of so many great war movies.

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A still from 1917.

The Beauty of Sam Mendes’s “1917” Comes at a Cost

the movie 1917 reviews

By Richard Brody

The most vulgar visual effect that I saw in a movie last year wasn’t Marvel-ous or otherwise superheroic; it was in “1917,” and depicted the death of a soldier in combat. The soldier is stabbed, and, as he bleeds out, his face is leached of pinkness and turns papery white just before he expires. The character’s death would have been as wrenching for viewers if the soldier’s appearance remained unaltered and he merely fell limp. Instead, the director, Sam Mendes , chose to render the moment picturesque—to adorn it with an anecdotal detail of the sort that might have cropped up in a war story, a tale told at years’ remove, and that would have stood for the ineffable horror of the experience. Instead, rendered as a special effect, the character’s end becomes merely poignant—not terrifying or repulsive—making for a very tasteful death.

That tastefulness is a mark of the utter tastelessness of “1917,” a movie that’s filmed in a gimmicky way—as a simulacrum of a single long take (actually, it’s a bunch of takes that run up to nine minutes and are stitched together with digital effects to make them look continuous). Yet that visual trickery isn’t the fakest aspect of the movie. Rather, the so-called long take serves as a mask—a gross bit of earnest showmanship that both conceals and reflects the trickery and the cheap machinations of the script, the shallowness of the direction of the actors, and the brazenly superficial and emotion-dictating music score.

The story is a sort of “Saving Private Ryan” in reverse, and that reversal is by far the most interesting thing about “1917,” with its suggestion of an antiwar ethos. Somewhere behind the lines in France, a young British lance corporal, Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), dozing during downtime, is awakened by a sergeant and told, “Pick a man, bring your kit.” Blake chooses a fellow lance corporal, Will Schofield (George MacKay), a friend who’d been napping in the grass alongside him. The sergeant sends the duo on a special mission: to cross the former front lines, now abandoned by German forces, and take a letter to a colonel who’s with his troops at a new forward position. That colonel is about to launch an offensive against the apparently retreating Germans, but aerial reconnaissance shows that the Germans are luring the colonel’s two battalions into a trap, and the letter is an order calling off the offensive. What’s more, the battalions to which Blake is being dispatched include his brother, a lieutenant.

Blake is outgoing and earnest, Schofield is a sarcastic cynic, and the implication is that Blake has been chosen for this mission not because he’s necessarily the best soldier to undertake it but because he’s uniquely motivated to complete it—because he knows that, if he doesn’t reach the colonel in time, his brother will be among sixteen hundred soldiers who will be entrapped and massacred. The darker suggestion, utterly unexplored, is that morale and commitment were issues in the British Army at this latter stage of the Great War (the action begins on April 6, 1917, and concludes the next morning), and that a soldier without Blake’s personal motive for saving the two battalions might not be trusted to put himself at risk to fulfill it.

What’s clear is that Schofield is dubious about the mission and resentful of Blake for choosing him as his partner. Of course, because “1917” is a film of patriotic bombast and heroic duty, Schofield’s mind will be changed in the course of the action. It’s only one in a series of painfully blatant dramatic reversals that wouldn’t be out of place in any of the comic-book movies that are so readily contrasted with “authentic” cinema. (For example, while Schofield has the cynicism knocked out of him, Blake—in another overlap with “Saving Private Ryan”—has to confront the painful consequences of his own warm-heartedly humane idealism.) The script is filled with melodramatic coincidences that grossly trivialize the life-and-death action by reducing it to sentiment: Schofield fills his canteen with fresh milk that he finds in a pail at a recently deserted farm, and eventually feeds an abandoned baby with it; Blake’s reminiscence of the blanket of cherry blossoms that covers his family’s garden is echoed in Schofield’s discovery of cherry blossoms scattered on a river, which serves as a reminder of his duty and a spark of motivation; an ugly but inconsequential swarm of rats in one part of a battlefield presages a single fateful encounter with a rat in another.

Whereas Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” presents an entire army mobilizing to save the life of one soldier, Mendes’s “1917” depicts two ordinary, obscure, and low-ranking soldiers thrust into a mission to potentially save sixteen hundred, and, by implication, the entire British Army, and change the course of the war. This is a classic idea, one that comes packed with an elegant irony. (For instance, it’s the idea at work in John Ford’s brief and brilliant Civil War episode in “How the West Was Won,” depicting the fateful encounter of two foot soldiers and two Union generals.) And it’s that very irony which Mendes replaces with a lumbering portentousness. He endows Blake and Schofield with no comparable sense of their own mission, their own disproportionate moment. The script (written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns) is imagination-free, which is to say that it endows the characters with no inner lives whatsoever. Have Blake and Schofield ever killed before in hand-to-hand combat? How far along are they in their military experience? What have they experienced of the war? For that matter, who are they? What do they think? Where are they from? What did they do before the war? What are their ambitions beyond survival?

What’s especially revealing about Mendes’s superficial and externalized practice in “1917” is that he’s not averse to presenting his characters’ inner visions and states of mind. In “American Beauty,” he famously showed the middle-aged male protagonist’s sexual fantasy of a naked teen-age girl being covered in a sprinkling of rose petals. While Mendes didn’t shrink from displaying the vivid imagination of a suburban horndog, he’s unwilling to face the imagination of the valorous combatants of “1917.” It’s as if whatever might be on the minds of his protagonists in the course of their dangerous journey toward the front lines, whether fear or lust, frivolity or hatred, would get in the way of the unbroken solemnity and earnestness with which he approaches the subject of the Great War. (On the other hand, he may fear unleashing his characters’ imagination, because, when, in “American Beauty,” he let his own imagination loose, the result was a cinematic ickiness of historic dimensions.)

Instead, Mendes shuts down Blake and Schofield and envelops them in a silence of the mind in order not to probe or care what they think. What he substitutes for their inner lives are sequences that exist solely because they make for striking images (a big fire at night, a run through a crowd of soldiers going over a trench wall). These shotlike compositions that arise from the flow of long takes come at the expense of plot and character, as in a scene of hand-to-hand combat that’s framed in the distance without regard to its mortal stakes and intense physicality. Once more, violence is moved offstage and prettified. The movie’s long takes, far from intensifying the experience of war, trivialize it; the effect isn’t one of artistic imagination expanded by technique but of convention showily tweaked. Its visual prose resembles a mass-market novel with the punctuation removed.

The film is dedicated, in the end credits, to Lance Corporal Alfred H. Mendes—the director’s grandfather—“who told us the stories.” In honoring the recollections and experiences of his grandfather, Mendes remains trapped in the narrow emotional range of filial piety that, far from sparking his imagination, inhibits it. His sense of duty yields an effortful and sanctimonious movie that, at the same time, takes its place in a lamentable recent trend. Mendes joins such directors of proud and bombastic craft as Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson, and Damien Chazelle, who’ve recently made films that are fixated on the heroic deeds of earlier British and American generations. These filmmakers, celebrating their truncated yet monumental versions of history’s heroes, are separating the public figures from their private lives, their visible greatness from mores that might not pass current-day muster. (It’s worth comparing their films to the work of Clint Eastwood, who’s upfront about the powers and limits of his stunted heroes.) The vision of heroism that these directors present bleaches the past of its presumptions and prejudices, cruelties and pettiness, but also of its genuine humanity, courage, and tragedy.

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Unique WWI epic has brutal war violence, smoking.

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What Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that 1917 is an outstanding World War I drama that makes viewers feel like they're experiencing what it might really have been like to be in the trenches on the front lines. Director Sam Mendes wrote the screenplay based on the stories his grandfather told him about being a runner in the British Army. The camera follows the young soldiers in one long tracking shot, making it feel like you're right in the action. Consequently, it all feels very real, and tension runs extremely high. Battle violence is graphically realistic, including shootings, strangling, stabbing, bombings, etc. Wounded soldiers are bloody, missing limbs, and crying in pain. Soldiers smoke (accurate for the era), drink, and use strong language ("f--k," "s--t"). Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth make cameo appearances alongside stars George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman .

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Report this review, what's the story.

During World War I, it's 1917, and British soldiers Schofield ( George MacKay ) and Blake ( Dean-Charles Chapman ) are selected to deliver an urgent message to a nearby battalion. In their high-stakes effort to save 1,600 lives, the runners must themselves survive the journey through enemy territory.

Is It Any Good?

About 15 minutes in to this movie, it dawns on you that this is something uniquely brilliant; by the end, it's clear that Sam Mendes has made one of the best films of 2019. That's largely because of the innovative cinematography: The entire film is one long tracking shot. Of course, there are edits, as imperceptible to viewers as they might be. And, honestly, whether or when the film stopped rolling isn't the point -- it's the effect. As the camera follows the two British runners trying to get across a German-occupied battlefield to deliver their urgent message, it moves around them -- in front, behind, next to, sometimes around a rock or a slightly different route but keeping the soldiers in view. It creates the video game-like feeling that you're the third runner on the mission. The first-person viewpoint transforms the experience of watching 1917 into something intimate, just short of interactive. Cinematographers aren't often household names, but Roger Deakins might just become one thanks to this Herculean accomplishment.

Given that the film is essentially a one-direction journey in which the camera rarely stops rolling, the production design is a real feat. Smoke and mirrors can't possibly exist: We follow Blake and Schofield through a looooooong trench, a maze of a barracks, and French countryside that's ravaged from the wages of war. The actors are all superb, but MacKay will rip your heart out as a low-ranking officer who's resentful of his assignment but rises to see his mission through, no matter the potential sacrifice. Teens may be reluctant to see a movie about World War I, but 1917 could be a game changer: It's hard to imagine anyone won't appreciate its originality, heart, and grit.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about World War I. How was it different from other wars? How have you seen it depicted in the media before? How does 1917 's portrayal of it compare?

Did you find the movie's violence realistic? How does the impact of this kind of violence compare to what you might see in a horror or superhero movie? Why do you think the filmmakers chose to show the violence in this way?

Why do you think the filmmakers chose their unusual camera technique? How did it change your experience as a viewer? Do you think it was effective?

How do the characters demonstrate compassion ? In the heat of war, is compassion a luxury, or a necessity? How do you think Blake should have interacted with the pilot?

Talk about examples of teamwork in the film. Why is it important in the film, and why is it an important skill in real life?

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‘1917’ Review: Paths of Technical Glory

Sam Mendes directs this visually extravagant drama about young British soldiers on a perilous mission in World War I.

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George MacKay plays a lance corporal in “1917,” directed by Sam Mendes.

By Manohla Dargis

On June 28, 1914, a young Serbian nationalist assassinated the presumptive heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, thus starting World War I. That, at any rate, is the familiar way that the origins for this war have been shaped into a story, even if historians agree the genesis of the conflict is far more complicated. None of those complications and next to no history, though, have made it into “1917,” a carefully organized and sanitized war picture from Sam Mendes that turns one of the most catastrophic episodes in modern times into an exercise in preening showmanship.

The story is simple. It opens on April 6, 1917, with Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay), British soldiers stationed in France, receiving new orders. They are to deliver a message to troops at the front line who are readying an assault on the Germans, who have retreated. (Coincidentally or not, April 6 is the date that the United States formally entered the war.) The British command, however, believes that the German withdrawal is a trap, an operational Trojan horse. The two messengers need to carry the dispatch ordering the waiting British troops to stand down, thereby saving countless lives.

It’s the usual action-movie setup — a mission, extraordinary odds, ready-made heroes — but with trenches, barbed wire and a largely faceless threat. Blake jumps on the assignment because his brother is among the troops preparing the assault. Schofield takes orders more reluctantly, having already survived the Battle of the Somme , with its million-plus casualties. The modest difference in attitude between the messengers will vanish, presumably because any real criticism — including any skepticism about this or any war — might impede the movie’s embrace of heroic individualism for the greater good, which here largely translates as vague national struggle and sacrifice.

What complicates the movie is that it has been created to look like it was made with a single continuous shot. In service of this illusion, the editing has been obscured, though there are instances — an abrupt transition to black, an eruption of thick dust — where the seams almost show. Throughout, the camera remains fluid, its point of view unfixed. At times, it shows you what Blake and Schofield see, though it sometimes moves like another character. Like a silent yet aggressively restless unit member, it rushes before or alongside or behind the messengers as they snake through the mazy trenches and cross into No Man’s Land, the nightmarish expanse between the fronts.

The idea behind the camerawork seems to be to bring viewers close to the action, so you can share what Blake and Schofield endure each step of the way. Mostly, though, the illusion of seamlessness draws attention away from the messengers, who are only lightly sketched in, and toward Roger Deakins’s cinematography and, by extension, Mendes’s filmmaking. Whether the camera is figuratively breathing down Blake’s and Schofield’s necks or pulling back to show them creeping inside a water-filled crater as big as a swimming pool, you are always keenly aware of the technical hurdles involved in getting the characters from here to there, from this trench to that crater.

In another movie, such demonstrative self-reflexivity might have been deployed to productive effect; here, it registers as grandstanding. It’s too bad and it’s frustrating, because the two leads make appealing company: The round-faced Chapman brings loose, affable charm to his role, while MacKay, a talented actor who’s all sharp angles, primarily delivers reactive intensity. This lack of nuance can be blamed on Mendes, who throughout seems far more interested in the movie’s machinery than in the human costs of war or the attendant subjects — sacrifice, patriotism and so on — that puff into view like little wisps of engine steam.

The absence of history ensures that “1917” remains a palatable war simulation, the kind in which every button on every uniform has been diligently recreated, and no wound, no blown-off limb, is ghastly enough to truly horrify the audience. Here, everything looks authentic but manicured, ordered, sane, sterile. Save for a quick appearance by Andrew Scott, as an officer whose overly bright eyes and jaundiced affect suggest he’s been too long in the trenches, nothing gestures at madness. Worse, the longer this amazing race continues, the more it resembles an obstacle course by way of an Indiana Jones-style adventure, complete with a showstopping plane crash and battlefield sprint.

Mendes, who wrote the script with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, has included a note of dedication to his grandfather, Alfred H. Mendes , who served in World War I. It’s the most personal moment in a movie that, beyond its technical virtues, is intriguing only because of Britain’s current moment. Certainly, the country’s acrimonious withdrawal from the European Union makes a notable contrast with the onscreen camaraderie. And while the budget probably explains why most of the superior officers who pop in briefly are played by name actors — Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch — their casting also adds distinctly royal filigree to the ostensibly democratic mix.

Rated R for war violence. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes.

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‘1917’: film review.

THR review: Sam Mendes' ambitious World War I film '1917' presents the harrowing odyssey of two British soldiers in one seemingly continuous shot.

By Todd McCarthy

Todd McCarthy

The only problem with  1917   is the teeth. As we now know from the ample evidence provided by Peter Jackson’s extraordinary rehabilitation of World War I documentary footage in last year’s  They Shall Not Grow Old,  British soldiers at that time had the most irregular, untended, misshapen, minds-of-their-own choppers seen anywhere in the 20th century. It’s a missing detail you just have to forgive in Sam Mendes ’ otherwise exemplary panorama of the horrors of war designed as an inescapable immersion in the unrelieved pressure and sheer wretchedness of the battlefront. Notable technically for the real-time fluidity of its presentation of ongoing events across nearly two hours, this is a protean display of virtuoso filmmaking, one that film aesthetes will wallow in but that even ordinary audiences will note and appreciate. 

World War I ended a century and one year ago, and there can now be no one left who remembers it. Most of the world’s current population probably has no idea why it was fought and what the conditions were like.  1917  has no interest in addressing the former question but is passionately devoted to describing the latter in visual terms that sweep you into the story and carry you along as if on wings, albeit ones that occasionally stop flapping and leave you in a bloody, muddy hell.

Release date: Dec 25, 2019

The film’s plot and format could scarcely be simpler: Two young lance corporals, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), stuck with 1,600 other British soldiers in trenches on the Hindenburg Line on April 6, 1917, are dispatched to deliver a letter by General Erinmore (Colin Firth). The missive, to be handed personally to Col. Mackenzie ( Benedict Cumberbatch ), commander of the 2nd battalion, contains orders not to proceed with a planned advance from the front because of intelligence confirming that it’s an enemy trap. The journey entails a high-risk overnight trek across dreadful, pock-marked terrain until very recently occupied by the Germans, which means booby traps and other dangers certainly lurk along the way. 

This sort of format has served as the basis of any number of video games set in innumerable eras of warfare and can involve as many risks and complications as its inventors care to concoct. The simplicity of the setup for cinematic purposes possesses an undeniable elemental appeal, and Mendes and his cinematographer Roger Deakins have set for themselves the challenge of telling it seamlessly, without any jumps in time or visible edits, in order to depict the entirety of the men’s journey without skipping over a thing.

Not for a moment, however, do the filmmakers pretend that the pic has no cuts. As the men traverse a considerable distance over terrain that offers few comforts, there are times where the camera will make a turn, enter some darkness or pass from one realm to another, all providing moments for one interlude to end and another to take up the baton, as it were. All the “shots” in the movie are seamlessly connected, and Deakins and his crew, using the brand-new Alexa Mini LF (large format) camera that provides twice the resolution of the former model, perform a tour de force, moving the camera above and into the action in extraordinarily fluid, elegant and revealing ways that have never been seen before. Stanley Kubrick would be massively envious.

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'1917' filmmaker sam mendes on crafting his world war i drama in a single shot.

A strong case could be made for the position that just going ahead and making a simple cut from one perspective to another wouldn’t palpably diminish the impact of the work; who would really care if you just made judicious cuts instead of hiding them in darkness or by some other means? But, like trailblazers in any realm of endeavor, they set themselves a challenge and figured out a way to pull it off, and the result is magnificent by any standard. Here, indisputably, is a film to be seen on the big screen as nature — or at least the filmmakers — intended.

Schofield is a serious, fair-complexioned, rangy lad of the type often associated with young Englishmen of the time, while Blake is shorter and black-haired, more a fireplug of a guy. As they head out on their perilous mission, the fairness of the spring day is overtaken by mud and overcast skies, and accompanied by music that too laboriously stresses the ominous; Thomas Newman’s score will drastically improve before too long. It’s a lifeless, barren landscape, one festooned with barbed wire.

The two men find that the Germans have indeed abandoned their trenches, although it’s quite noticeable that their subterranean structures are far neater and better constructed than those of their British counterparts. Even the German rats are bigger and healthier than what the Brits are used to. As Deakins’ camera glides, swoops, pivots, turns and seems keen to investigate all the space between heaven and hell — even as it mostly seems like they’ve reached the latter already — the incidental wages of war are everywhere to be seen. 

Not even 45 minutes in, a shocking death occurs, but the terrible odyssey must go on. From time to time, memories surface of other films that involve life in the trenches or long journeys through perilous, death-strewn landscapes —  Paths of Glory ,   most of all, but also  Saving Private Ryan ,  Full Metal Jacket , A Very Long Engagement , Come and See  — even if aesthetically it bears the most resemblance to the simulated continuous take style of Birdman .  

But the new film outdoes them all in terms of absolute immersion in an inescapable environment, one dominated by misery and the continuous threat of death by any number of means. And while for some time it’s hard to take your mind off the complexity of what the cameraman and director have achieved here, at a certain point you begin taking it for granted and become more involved in the specifics of the journey’s completion. 

There are a few moments of sad respite with a young woman (Claire Duburcq) and baby who is not her own and, with all the chaos, one fleetingly wonders how it’s possible for such a journey to end at its desired destination. Still, the manner of storytelling remains at one with the aesthetic approach of the entire project, which is to show and not tell, and the fate of all the men ultimately rests in the hands of the colonel the two voyagers were sent to find. More than a few fans will want to know that  Bodyguard  heartthrob Richard Madden turns up only very late in the game as Blake’s older brother.

Despite the vast complexity of the storytelling technique, the tale itself, written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (the latter known for writing nine episodes of  Penny Dreadful ), is very simple, and satisfyingly so, hinging on the single matter of whether or not an otherwise inevitable slaughter will be avoided. And it all comes predictably wrapped in the inevitable humanistic lament about the tragic waste, the millions of lives lost, the needless destruction and misuse of creative and industrial initiative. 

Even if the film is mostly hitting familiar notes in terms of story and theme, it expresses a concise, focused and expertly managed vision with which there’s little to quibble, and the extraordinary style represents the fruition of a long-imagined dream on the part of many directors and cinematographers. From now on, when the discussion turns to great works of cinematography and camera operating,  1917  will always have to be high on the list.

Production companies: DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, New Republic Pictures, Neal Street Production Distributor: Universal Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniels Mays, Adrian Scarborough, Jamie Parker, Nabhan Rizwan Director: Sam Mendes Screenwriters: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns Producers: Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall, Brian Oliver Executive producers: Jeb Brody, Oleg Petrov, Ignacio Salazar-Simpson, Ricardo Marco Bude Director of photography: Roger Deakins Production designer: Dennis Gassner Costume designer: Jacqueline Durran, David Crossman Editor: Lee Smith Music: Thomas Newman Casting: Nina Gold

Rated R, 119 minutes

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Review: ‘1917’ is visually impressive, but it has two notable problems

the movie 1917 reviews

There is one feature of “1917” that is so outstanding that it makes the film worth seeing, or almost worth seeing. It’s the cinematography, as well as all the visual elements that became part of the cinematography — the set design and decoration, the blocking and planning of scenes and the choreography of the shots.

Directed by Sam Mendes and photographed by Roger Deakins, “1917” is created to seem as if it were filmed in one long take. That would be hard enough to accomplish in a movie with a single location, but this is a war picture with size and scope that involves miles and miles of trenches, and that contains not just talking heads having conversations but also actual battles.

So “1917” is some kind of serious achievement that deserves praise and acknowledgment and probably some awards. But … before we start popping the Champagne and planning how we’re going to spend Friday night, just two words of caution:

1. “1917” is not a particularly enjoyable movie.

Some will see this as amazingly naïve comment — it’s World War I! How can World War I be any fun? But no, fun is not the issue. Cinematic engagement is the issue. D-Day wasn’t fun, but the harrowing first half-hour of “Saving Private Ryan” is unforgettable. Guadalcanal wasn’t a merry romp, but “The Thin Red Line” is intense and gripping. And World War I has been the subject of a number of engrossing films, such as “The Big Parade,” “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Paths of Glory.”

2. It’s altogether possible that the movie’s strategy of presenting the story in a single take wasn’t ideal for this material.

That’s an awful thought, and it might not even be true — the movie’s shooting strategy is so central to the finished project that it’s difficult to imagine “1917” any other way. However, there are times when the single take is distracting, other times when it’s limiting and still other times when it’s exhausting.

There are yet other times when it’s absolutely exhilarating, such as when two soldiers see an enemy plane in the distance, falling out of the sky. Suddenly, it’s heading toward them, and a moment later, it’s almost crashing into them.

There’s also the sight of one of the soldiers running across an active battlefield (rather as the horse did in Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” ) and another scene of two men walking through miles and miles of trenches. These images will stay with you, maybe not forever, but easily for weeks after seeing “1917,” and that’s no small thing.

The story, based on a true incident in the life of Mendes’ grandfather, plays out in real time. Two British battalions are about to march into a trap set by the Germans. The commanding officer of those battalions needs to be told to stand down, but with the phone lines cut, the only way to communicate the order is by sending a pair of messengers through enemy lines. To make sure that the men have a special incentive to accomplish this mission, one of them, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), is the brother of one of the battalion’s officers.

A man’s desire to save his brother — a brother that we’ve never seen — makes a surprisingly weak hook for an audience’s emotions, and so “1917” must succeed on a scene-by-scene basis. To a large extent it does. Andrew Scott is weirdly brilliant in his five-minute appearance as a cynical lieutenant. Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch make good work of their brief scenes as officers. Still, here and there, the energy drops out.

the movie 1917 reviews

In the end, “1917” might be at its best when replayed in the mind, condensed to a handful of images, such as the dead face plastered to the wall of a trench or the fetid bog full of swollen bodies. Better yet, its ideal form might be as Mendes originally experienced it, as a war story told over 15 minutes, rather than as relived over two hours.

Even so, by the time it ends, Mendes has built within the audience an intense desire to see the men’s message successfully delivered, and like a true dramatist, Mendes milks it for every drop of tension. He does not blow his big finish.

M “1917”: Drama. Starring Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay. Directed by Sam Mendes. Theaters and Showtimes R. 119 minutes.

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1917 Is a Movie About the Horrors of War, Told With a Devotion to Beauty and Life

A good movie can be built from any number of components: a great story, distinctive visuals, a haunting score. But sometimes a face can take you 90 percent of the way. And although Sam Mendes’ extraordinary World War I drama 1917 is notable for the technical feat of its cinematography—Mendes and director of photography Roger Deakins have constructed it to be perceived as one unbroken shot—the true key to its effectiveness is the face of one of its central actors, George MacKay. MacKay plays a young British soldier, Schofield, who just happens to be nearby when one of his mates, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), accepts a dangerous assignment: The two must cross enemy lines to deliver a message to British troops on the other side by the next day’s dawn. Blake has a personal stake in the assignment: he has a brother among the troops at risk. Schofield doesn’t think the mission is such a good idea—but he sticks by his friend anyway.

The first thing that strikes you is how young these two are, barely out of boyhood. That’s true of nearly all war pictures, though those set in World War I—including this one—come with a particular, sorrowful sting. The First World War, one of the deadliest in modern history, came with no satisfying “The bad guy is dead!” ending. The losses were devastating for all countries involved, certainly for Great Britain. And if the imagery we associate with this war are bleak enough—the dank trenches, the dead horses, the ghostly barbed wire—the rows of grave markers in its aftermath, most of them guarding the remains of very young men, make for an especially somber end note.

Mendes captures all of that tense sadness in 1917 , yet the film—which he co-wrote with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and which is dedicated to his grandfather, a veteran of the war—also has a glorious, pulsing energy. It’s largely about death, or the risk of death, but in addressing some of the horrors of this particular war, Mendes has made a film that feels wholly alive. It’s a carefully polished picture, not one that strives for gritty realism. But its inherent devotion to life and beauty is part of its power, in the same way that Lewis Milestone’s quietly wrenching 1930 All Quiet on the Western Front —a story not about the experience of English soldiers but of German ones, adapted from Erich Maria Remarque’s novel—stressed that individual moments of life, grasped and held tight, are the only real protection we have against the pointlessness of war.

1917 opens in a moment of repose: Blake and Schofield are lounging around a tree, reveling in the ultimate luxury of killing time, when they’re informed that they’re to report for a special assignment. (The general who gives them the order is a businesslike but clear-eyed Colin Firth—he looks from one lad to the other as if fully aware of the likelihood that neither will make it back.) Further afield, the Germans have allegedly retreated, and two English battalions, a total of some 1,600 men, have advanced and are ready to strike, hopeful that they can bring swift end to a war that has already been raging—and killing millions—for three years. But the retreat is a ruse. The Germans are now lying in wait for their prey. They have also, craftily, cut all lines of communication, so the message must travel in person, and it’s Blake and Schofield who must carry it.

Deakins’ camera follows this duo as they leap out of the bleak safety of the trenches and embark on a bone-rattling trek across no-man’s land. They pass dead horses ringed by haloes of flies, and the corpses of fellow soldiers, twisted and deformed in their shallow graves of mud. Schofield gallantly holds back a loop of barbed wire so that Blake might pass through; the thorns spring to life and pierce his hand. Shortly thereafter, he’ll lose his footing in a mud crater, instinctively breaking his fall with the wounded hand—it lands in the festering gut of a swollen corpse, a sick moment of slapstick. All of this is within the movie’s first 15 minutes or so, and you may be looking ahead to all the horrors that will surely follow, wondering if you’ll be able to bear them.

But Mendes knows what he’s doing. There are moments of horror and deep sorrow in 1917, including a scene of brutality followed by an aching loss—that this loss results from an act of compassion makes it even more cosmically cruel. This event occurs roughly a third of the way into the movie, and you feel its punch, hard. Yet Mendes’ aim isn’t to serve up relentless punishments for two hours. (The picture is just the right length for the story: You don’t need an epic runtime when your movie has an epic spirit.) Mendes moves his heroes through a field of chopped-down cherry trees, desolate in their lifeless beauty—though even then, there’s the promise that, after the stones have sunk into the ground, even more trees will pop up in their wake. There’s a deserted farmhouse whose environs are populated by one lonely cow. Someone—who?—has recently milked her, and Schofield, after testing to make sure it’s not poisoned, dips his hand in for a drink of the sublime. He’ll be shot at; he’ll have to silently kill a young German soldier with his bare hands. But Mendes is so careful with the story’s pacing that you never feel assaulted, even if you do feel the weight of every act.

And even if you fear the one-shot-effect might just be a gimmick, in Deakins’ capable hands, it works. The camera’s movement has its own silent dignity; there’s an overarching calmness to the film, even in its most intense moments. Deakins’ and Mendes’ sense of color may be even more wondrous than their one-shot feat: The ruins of a village lit by mortar explosions are bridal white. And if the colors of World War I are mostly brown, Deakins’ camera finds the stark beauty in its myriad hues, from dusky olives to soulful ochres.

The actors, moving through this world of terror with no glory, are terrific: Chapman’s baby face is sullen one moment, radiantly good-natured the next. Andrew Scott shows up for a few brilliant moments as a deadpan, disillusioned lieutenant. But it’s MacKay’s face that haunts you after the screen dims. It’s not a modern face, but a 1917 face, that of a young man who’s staunch in doing his duty but who has no idea what he’s gotten into. His ears stick out a little; he doesn’t smile much, but then, he can’t find much cause to. This is a face you might see inside an antique silver locket, the face of someone who’s loved very much, but who is very far away, and in danger. Through the space of the movie, we’re his guardians, keeping watch over him as well as we can. That he inspires this care in us is the key to the movie. He’s one of millions, but for the duration of 1917 , he’s our boy.

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1917 Review


Schofield and Blake are charged with setting off over the frontline, through German territory and across the countryside to give the word. In a frankly sadistic move by his superiors, Blake, who is asked to pick an accompanying partner before being briefed, is chosen because his older brother is with the 2nd Battalion, at risk of imminent death. Blake, then, has some extra skin in the game, and the red mist quickly rises. This potential suicide mission is totally doable, he says. Why, then, asks Schofield, have they been given grenades?

The film is thick with atmosphere. Twenty minutes in, as Schofield and Blake leave the trenches, Mendes gives them a rude awakening — a portent of what’s to come, perhaps. Due to the insanity of the war — the horror and the madness — there’s a surreal quality to much of 1917 , and for a large part of it the corporals’ quest feels like a dark The Wizard Of Oz or The Lord Of The Rings — they are Sam and Frodo heading into Mordor, and soon after setting off they find themselves in a Hieronymus Bosch hellscape. Here, as with many of its sequences, 1917 excels, every camera move paying off. It’s a grim spectacle, but an incredible one.

With Thomas Newman’s score providing a creeping dread, here we find flies buzzing around horse carcasses and rats scuttling over human corpses, the faces of the soldiers all but eaten away. It’s a waking nightmare, no less so because of the unforgiving daylight. No mood lighting required. That comes later, when cinematographer Roger Deakins really goes for it. In a town bombed to bits, aerial blasts light the place up, making for a ghostly terror. There are some staggering landscapes in this film. The hell of war is production-design heaven. A playground of the damned.

It may often be one long shot, but it’s never static, never boring. You can only imagine the choreography involved.

Schofield’s bloodied hand, torn up from a mishap with some barbed wire, is the least of his worries. “Patch it up,” says Blake. “You’ll be wanking again in no time.” It’s a tall order to keep things moving when the film slows down, as it does intermittently — the conversation needs to be compelling and while it isn’t always, MacKay and Chapman are both great, both convincing, both immensely likeable. There’s barely any backstory — as with Christopher Nolan ’s Dunkirk , it’s all about the here and now. Jeopardy comes quickly, and you care.

There is less banter as events become graver. Needless to say, as 1917 goes on, things don’t get any happier. Volume-wise, Mendes’ crew matches it accordingly: the audio is often unforgiving. There is grandeur to Newman’s score, in awe of the apocalypse of it all, and the sound design is off the hook — biplanes roar over us, deafeningly. The cinema seats shake. Much of the action is nail-biting.

There is little respite. Clearly, Mendes wants the camerawork to immerse us in the action, and it does. The camera ducks and dives gracefully, swooping around balletically — it may often be one long shot, but it’s never static, never boring. You can only imagine the choreography involved. This is a film that has been meticulously planned, to the inch, to the millisecond. Unfortunately, though, you feel that. Everything is in exactly the right place at exactly the right time and events unfold in neat succession. At times it feels like an installation we’re being led through to experience the horror of war.

The technique is a self-imposed challenge for Mendes — everything we see has to suit the conceit. It can be done — it worked gangbusters only last year, in the Norwegian film about the 2011 Anders Breivik massacre, Erik Poppe’s Utøya: July 22 , a horribly tense (supposed) unbroken 90-minute take. That, though, was far more naturalistic than this, the camera bringing far less attention to itself. 1917 feels stylistically contrived, and as such, it’s often not as immersive as Mendes might like.

The same goes for the narrative. Despite the film’s heart, sincerity and intention, it is essentially a string of set-pieces: What’s going to happen next? Which terrain will we visit? What sort of attack will we see? After a strong first half it becomes less engaging — at its weakest, it feels a bit like a Tomb Raider game, the thrills and spills slightly superficial, the action in service of the camerawork. There is little complexity overall and it’s not particularly thought-provoking. And yet, there is no questioning the skill and the film is often breathtaking. By the end if it all, you feel like you’ve taken a beating — as it hits its climactic stretch, it’s the business.

This is the first screenplay Mendes has written — in fact, he co-wrote it with up-and-coming Scottish writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns (who contributed to the Mendes-exec produced Penny Dreadful ). Yet if his films share anything approaching a worldview, it’s a sort of cynicism — and 1917 only adds to that. There’s nothing rousing here, no grandstanding. There is hopelessness throughout, just little slithers of light shining through the murk. Any humanity on display is constantly bludgeoned. Which is fitting, all things considered.

Almost everything you’ve ever seen in a war film is here. But never quite like this. It is very much a stylistic exercise, but if you’re going to do that, you have to really go for it. And 1917 really, really goes for it.

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