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Oscars 2020 | 1917 Movie Review: A Masterclass in Cinematography

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I don’t really care much if I’m watching a movie on Netflix or on the big screen, but seriously if you missed the theatrical run of 1917, you’ve missed your chance at the most epic cinema experience ever.

1917 – A Certified Win at Oscars 2020

A movie which I at first glance thought was nothing more than another British director’s attempt at getting an Oscars nomination with a war movie, actually turned out to be just that and so much more. Set in April 1917, this story takes place during the first world war. Germans are trying out weird tactics and have retreated from the French territory. During this, the intelligence informs that it’s a trap and if the British soldiers attack Germans now, 1600 Britons will die. Amid this, two young soldiers are tasked with taking a letter with this message to the battalion ready to attack the Germans and ask them to stand down. It’s already afternoon and the task needs to be done by dawn and these two soldiers now attempt to cross no man’s land with dead soldiers and animals strewn all across it to save the 1600 soldiers.

You see, nothing too complex when it comes to the plot. It’s just a regular war movie. So, why is everyone placing their bets on this one movie? The victory of the film 1917 doesn’t lie in its story- only it lies in the storytelling.

The Genius of 1917

Writer/director Sam Mendes has said that this movie is an embellishment of wartime story his grandfather had once told him. This story is obviously very close to the director and to ensure that the story incites the same emotion in the viewers as it does within him, he has left no stone unturned. He has given the viewers, an experience like no other.

Along with the screenplay writer Kristy Wilson and cinematography legend Roger Deakins, Sam Mendes has created a choreography the likes of which at least I have never seen before. There are many long shots, which refuse to let you breathe, fused into each other so seamlessly that you cannot tell where the cuts are. Except for the interval, there’s not one single cut that you can spot. Do you all remember that one scene in the Atonement, when James McAvoy character is at Dunkirk? 1917 is the movie if that one scene was made into a full-length feature film.

360-degree shots, sneaking cameras between the trenches, trick shots combined with stunt choreography where a plane crashes in the air but falls right where you’re standing. It is a cinematic achievement for which the mind needs to be sound, the heart full of conviction and a team full of technicians.

The Acting is on Point

Obviously you need insane actors who can pull this off because if the expressions falter for only one second if the actor by mistake looks at the camera – then the entire long elaborate take will go to hell. George Mackay who has the most screen time as Lance Corporal Schofield takes your breath away. Partly because there are no cuts in the film. Your breath is constantly stuck in your throat because there’s a war going on – and that’s another thing for you to worry about. But partly because his acting performance is so earnest that when he stumbles you feel your legs are wobbling.

Some might find the decision to cast famous faces (Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch) in cameos to be a little distracting. But it works as an oddly touching tribute to the hierarchical duality of war and its cinema. All of them appear as senior officers, as nothing more than rapid signposts on a treacherous highway.

No Stone Un-Turned

For a film whose form of action is the story, it’s strangely nice that the writing feels just as important. The characterizations of Lance Corporals Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are crucial to understanding the social dynamics of a war movie’s anti-war core. Their boyish chatter reveals a whole lot while making it seem incidental. We learn that Schofield is the cynical soldier who resents going home because of the goodbyes that follow. He feels like a statistic, unlike Blake, who is infinitely more seduced by the aura of battle. Most notably, Schofield’s transformation – from a reluctant hero who once traded his medal (“it’s just metal and ribbons”) for a bottle of French wine, to a messenger of stubborn strength – is not a consequence of patriotism or undying loyalty. His courage is derived from a cause that’s personal and intimate.

The Verdict on 1917

1917 is a masterpiece and an experience like no other. I’m giving the movie 9 on the scale of 10.

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