In Brief: You’d think the people who do a movie about makeup would makeup a better story.
In my book The Irishman is the best picture of 2019. However, you can make a good argument for the Golden Globe win for “1917” in the drama category. Most of it has to do with how director and co-writer Sam Mendes put his film together.
It’s done in chunks. Huge ones. Some of the scenes run 9 minutes in length. Considering 1917 is a war movie and some of the scenes involve traipsing through World War I trenches, the coordination it took to get it done and make it look seamless, is nothing short of mind-boggling.
In fact, that’s the best description of the movie. Mind- boggling.
The premise comes from stories that Mendes (the two James Bond movies, Spectre, Skyfall) grandfather told him about the conflict. He was a messenger during the war. Two soldiers are picked to go through No Man’s Land to a unit that it about to go into a battle where they will all surely be massacred. The brother of one of the soldiers is in that unit.
Relative unknown actors George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman play the two men. Two things are striking about their performances. It had to be grueling. Their hike through the trenches and the obstacles encountered demand excellent conditioning. Mendes’ script and the accompanying explosions and weaponry demanded that the two actors be in good shape.
Second, their performances are as good as that conditioning. You struggle with them to make sense of the insanity of war in the trenches. At the same time, you also understand the importance the assignment. Lives are at risk and they are willing to sacrifice theirs to save them.
That’s the story and the acting. The real star of the movie — however — is Mendes and his cinematographer Roger Deakins. They built trenches and other sets all around the United Kingdom and rehearsed the sequences over and over until they perfected the moves needed to make the movie work.
And work it does.
Whether you are a fan of the genre or not, even if you hate war movies, you need to see this just for the thrill of watching how Mendes, Deakins and their technical crew put this together.
It is amazing. In 2020 you won’t want to miss 1917.
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden
Click here for theaters and show times.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.