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1917 Review : Adding more to the genre

Despite the mismanagement of our screening starting 40 mins late, the 3D shifting to 2D, the Indian interval and then again shifting to 3D somewhere near the third act for 5 minutes, going back to 2D and then rewinding it 20 mins back only for people to boo loud enough to resume it back where it was, it was a lovely experience.

This film has left a better first impression on me than Dunkirk did. Where Dunkirk covers a harrowing and disastrous situation which soldiers are running away from, this one covers the physical, mental and emotional loss one faces in war. It’s anti-war.

Here, our protagonist isn’t going through a struggle that leads to a triumphant win, but is attempting to keep soldiers from dying. He is asking them to hold back. At many places the film highlights that war isn’t the way, unlike Dunkirk, which ends with Churchill’s triumphant speech. At a time where politicians use fear mongering and hint at the need to go to war, it’s a much needed film.

The sheer technical mastery that Sam Mendes delivers with his storytelling ability is phenomenal. Not one shot seems gimmicky. Mendes talks about this in an interview with Alissa Wilkinson of Vox.

“I wanted to tell this story in two hours of “real time.” So I felt like it was a natural thing, to lock the audience into the men’s experiences. In a movie that operates more like a ticking-clock thriller at times, I wanted an audience to feel every second passing and take every step with them, and also be aware of geography and distance and physical difficulty. The feeling that you are going to have to live through the story with them is accentuated by not cutting.”

Maybe not the right way to put it but it’s like a ‘A day in the life of’ video but about a soldier on a mission. The challenges they face on the battlefield.

It’s not just Mendes, but also Roger Deakin’s almost mythic cinematography that brings us into the trenches. The film is able to go from start to end without a single change in focal length. Editor Lee Smith, who also won Best Editor for Dunkirk, manages to maintain a seamless pace. Not one moment feels unnecessary. And Dennis Gassner’s production design stretches across the amazing landscape, making the war zone more authentic.

Even though George MacKay had the most screen time, it is Dean-Charles Chapman who stole the show with that one scene that I can’t describe without spoilers. He delivered the scene with such depth and emotion that I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. My one complaint would be that when a prominent actor makes his cameo, it takes a while before you go “oh it’s him”. Before you are able to register the character you are trying to remember the actor.

Initially, I wasn’t intrigued in watching this film, mainly because it seemed like just another war film, but the fact that the film was critically acclaimed and its Golden Globe wins made me check it out. Sam Mendes deserved his Best Director win.



By Sanyam Varun


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