In the picture

February 2, 2020

With the race for the Oscars around the corner, Instep looks at one of the strongest contenders that could cause an upset.



Staring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch

Direction: Sam Mendes

Tagline: Time is the enemy

Interesting tales from the World Wars have inspired many big screen ventures, including some thoroughly remarkable cinematic offerings, and the new film 1917 now joins their ranks by impressing not only with its technical accomplishments but also its intensity and emotional impact.

Designed to give the effect of one continuous take, the film is based, in part, on an account told to director Sam Mendes by his paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes. It takes us to the battlegrounds of World War I where two soldiers have to put their own lives at risk to save hundreds of their comrades.

Under the impression that the German army has pulled back from a sector, the British forces are planning an attack on their retreating foes. But when aerial reconnaissance reveals that the Germans’ withdrawal is only tactical and the Brits are actually set to walk into an ambush, Lance Corporals Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Will Schofield (George MacKay) are tasked with the challenging mission to deliver a message to the Colonel of the aforementioned battalion, calling off their planned attack. At stake are the lives of 1,600 men, including Blake’s older brother. If Blake and Schofield fail to warn them, the group will be decimated.

The intensity kicks up as the two young soldiers cross no man’s land and enter enemy territory, making their way through abandoned German outposts with the potential of running into peril at any step.

The pressure builds as the clock ticks, the camera following the men in what is made to seem like real time. The effect of the continuous take is near-seamless, with beautifully choreographed camera shots and stunning cinematography. Viewers may initially find it hard to resist the urge to spot the places where the shots were spliced, but the whole scenario is so gripping that you’re soon fully immersed in the drama.

There is the occasional detour – like the French woman sequence, for instance – that isn’t entirely convincing, but you’re too invested in the tale by that point to really chide Mendes for the occasional misstep.

Gripping from the first frame to the last, 1917 is a powerful war drama that puts together a fairly straightforward but utterly fascinating story with masterful direction and cinematography, terrific acting (MacKay, especially, is outstanding), and a whole lot of emotional weight.

The end result is poignant, affecting, and heart-breaking; a film that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best war movies while serving as a timely reminder of the horrific loss and utter devastation left behind by conflict.

Rating system: ☆Not on your life;  ☆ ½ If you really must waste your time;  ☆☆ Hardly worth the bother;  ☆☆ ½ Okay for a slow afternoon only;  ☆☆☆ Good enough for a look see;  ☆☆☆ ½ Recommended viewing;  ☆☆☆☆ Don’t miss it;  ☆☆☆☆ ½ Almost perfect;  ☆☆☆☆☆ Perfection.

Oscar 2020 predictions: What award can '1917' bag this year?