Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden
Runtime: 119 minutes
Rating R (for violence, some disturbing images, and language)
This week we went on a journey into World War I. It seems normally Hollywood focuses on WWII so I was excited to see how this war would translate to film. Saving Private Ryan is an obvious classic and I think any who’ve watched it can picture the opening scenes with the military storming the beaches of Normandy. Going in I hoped there would be scenes as iconic as this. On another note I was excited for this film. The director Sam Mendes knows pacing, and how to build tension. He directed several recent Bond films one of which, Skyfall in my opinion was one of its strongest entries. Not to give him all the credit, the cinematographer Roger Deakins has won numerous awards and any film he works on I’ve felt has ALWAYS looked gorgeous. The heavy hitters are here for this film and the cast was peppered with A-List. I had high hopes.
Onto the film.
We open on April 6th, 1917 in France. Immediately the film has an “epic” feel to it. The camera pans over the battlefields and you can feel the weight of the war ongoing. We meet our two protagonists, British soldiers named Blake (Chapman) and Schofield (MacKay). They are tasked by General Erinmore (Firth) with an important mission. The communication lines have been cut by the Germans and they must deliver a message to the Devonshire Regiment immediately, this group is preparing an attack on the German forces. Unbeknownst to them, an ambush awaits. 1600 men will be lost including Blake’s brother.
At first, I wondered why only two men would be sent on such an important mission, but the realization is that with fewer numbers they can sneak over undetected. What I am determined to convey in this review is the cinematography. This film looks as if it’s filmed in one continuous shot. An impressive feat the adds to the marvel. The pacing of this film is exceptional as well. We see the two men talking on their journey and in moments I felt it may start to drag something happens to pull you in even deeper. Several times the audience gasped and put their hands to their mouths.
Another highlight is this film is the A-list cast. As you can see in the “starring” section there are big actors in the mix. What’s nice about this film is they don’t overshadow our two leads. Each “big” actor comes in and has a nice/important part to play which helps strengthen our story.
As time progresses on the trek, I lost count of how many beautiful scenes were before us. The imagery when a building is on fire, a night sky, a change through the trenches. Truly a spectacle to see. I don’t want you to think the plot is cookie cutter. Go from point A to B. This film has much more substance than that. Another point to highlight is how real this all feels. Schofield (MacKay) is a force to be reckoned with. The array of emotions he shows throughout this film pulls you in as if you’re right beside him and his companion.
I am confident in telling you to see this film and see it in theaters. The imagery is something to really take in. The story as well. As I stated World War I hasn’t had nearly as much treatment in films as World War II has. I was fascinated by the weapons and tactics used and found myself learning more about a war I felt somewhat in the dark about while being entertained. I haven’t gone back for a 2nd viewing many times since this column has started but I am going to this time. I want to pay attention to how its filmed realizing that it looks like everything flows in one shot. This was technically released in 2019 and I will say in my opinion it is the best film of “last” year. Saying that I also feel this sets the bar VERY high for the rest of this year and what’s to come. I will give you an obvious warning. This is a war film. It is gruesome, it is gritty, and it is sad at times. There are scenes where you’ll look away at the gore in front of you but knowing that going in you be leaving the theater talking about this film the rest of the evening and the days to come. Go see this film!!! 5 stars out of 5 #ENJOYLOCAL
Andrew McManus is Operations Manager for Patties & Pints and its parent company Eflow Development. He can be reached at [email protected] or 740-981-9158