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1917 is a technical achievement that puts viewers in the thick of a brutal war. (Picture courtesy of United International Pictures)

 

THIS epic World War I movie follows the simple but ultimately perilous journey of two British soldiers who are racing against time to fulfill their mission.

They must deliver a message to their fellow comrades at the frontline that warns of an ambush during a skirmish soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line in France during Operation Alberich in 1917.

Although naturally afraid for their lives, Lance Cpl. Schofield (played by George MacKay) and Lance Cpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) muster their courage and get on with the task.

After all, the lives of 1600 soldiers are on their heads including Blake's own elder brother.

The movie, directed, co-produced and co-written by Sam Mendes is partly based on an account told to the filmmaker by his paternal grandfather, Alfred.

In 1917, Mendes presented the horrors and brutality of the historical war in a raw and immersive fashion coupled to a tense sense of urgency.

The two-hour movie was designed to look like a long, one-take camera shot where the viewer got to follow the two soldiers on their mission in almost real time.

The initial confusion and nervousness of the two as well as their resolve, determination and compassion were on full display onscreen.

Award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (of Blade Runner 2049, The Shawshank Redemption and No Country For Old Men fame) crafted wonderful images that showcased the strangely beautiful harshness of the environment.

From gritty trenches and eerie abandoned bunkers to the unsuspecting wide open spaces of the French countryside and menacing ruins of a town, it was an immersive experience with a subtle and foreboding feeling of dread.

Even the mundane scenes where their small talk about family and growing up lent to the build up of drama.

The movie was well paced and the few major action scenes served to shock and ramp up the tense unpredictability of being in a major battle.

This was not the type of movie where the glorified hero easily kills his enemies with a hail of bullets in splendourous and violently artistic action sequences.

It featured more natural fight versus flight responses that prioritised survival.

The dire happenings onscreen coupled to a deceptively simple yet effective score by Thomas Newman (The Help, Bridge Of Spies) served to solidify the illusion of being in the thick of things for the viewer.

Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall) put together a hard-hitting, engaging and detailed movie that showcased the loud fury and quiet desolation of WWI.

My only minor grouse was that it did feel, later on in the movie during the more dynamic sequences, like I was passively playing a first-person shooter video game.

The initial shocking mounds of dead bodies seen earlier on had also lost its impact by the time more bloated corpses started turning up in the latter part of the movie.

It was actually the less showy moments between the characters that were the most moving and poignant.

It's no surprise that 1917 won trophies for Best Motion Picture Drama and Best Director at the recent Golden Globe Awards.

It was also recently announced that the movie had received 10 nominations for the upcoming Academy Awards.

Those interested in filmmaking or that enjoy the technical intricacies of moviemaking will find a lot to analyse and take away from this exercise in engaging visual storytelling.

For casual cinemagoers, 1917 is still a worthwhile watch as well.

Make sure you catch it on the biggest screen possible, like Imax, to get the most out of it.

 

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1917

Directed by Sam Mendes

Starring George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott,

Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

Duration 119 minutes

Rating 18

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