1917 ★★★★

Awards season is such a funny thing. Sam Mendes' 1917 is a terrific technical achievement any way you slice it and as harrowing and explicitly anti-war as any film we've seen in recent years, and because it's become the frontrunner for a slew of Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director), it's being demonized all over the internet. I'm a little baffled by that, considering how harmless this film is. I mean, I'm not crazy, right? We all sat through fucking Green Book winning Best Picture last year, right?

This is clearly a personal effort for Mendes, as the dedication at the end of the film suggests, and he certainly does the Most Directing of this year's major Oscar players. The one-shot (or rather, two-shot) gimmick is effective in ratcheting up the tension to the most palpable sense of dread possible, and Thomas Newman's droning score amplifies that even further. The art direction is impeccable, and Roger Deakins (as per usual) paints some stunning pictures onscreen. As I said earlier, it's a technical marvel. At the center of all of this excitement is George MacKay, who really gets put through the ringer in this film. It's not even that what he does is great acting, it's that he is the anchor for basically the whole movie, buried in this two-shot illusion, and the camera is hardly ever not on him. He carries this beast of a movie very, very well, and it looks like a physical and emotional marathon. Dean-Charles Chapman holds his own very well against MacKay and the film's larger moving pieces. I couldn't stop thinking about a tweet I saw that said the Famous British Actors were sprinkled in through the movie like bosses in a video game, between Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and Colin Firth. They're all fine.

My biggest issues lie with the script. I disagree with the take that the two-shot gimmick makes the film feel like a video game -- it's much more immersive and immediate for that, in my opinion -- but the contrived plot points do feel artificial. I can buy a few of the set pieces (French woman and a baby! mine shaft! airplane! waterfall!), but all at once, over just a few hours, did test the film's overly realistic tone. Whenever the characters do speak, it tends to be a bit schlocky and obvious (why why WHY did we need French subtitles in that one scene?).

That's not enough to ruin the entire experience. It's a tense and memorable experience. Would it be the most exciting Best Picture winner in the world? No! Would I happily rank it above some of the other winners this decade? Absolutely.

Elliott liked this review