‘1917’ captivates audiences, earns Oscar nod

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Over the long Christmas break, I spent most of my time doing what I do best, watching movies.
In the month we were away from school, I saw a good amount of movies that I had been dying to see since I first saw their trailers, but none hit as close to home as Sam Mendes’ latest masterpiece “1917.”
“1917” tells the story of two British soldiers in World War I, Lance Col. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Col. Schofield (George MacKay), as they embark on a journey to carry a message and stop a company of men from attacking the Germans and falling into a trap.
But there’s a catch: the attack is scheduled for the next morning, and Blake’s brother is among the men walking into the trap.
Time is of the essence as Blake and Schofield journey across the French countryside to save their fellow soldiers before they doom themselves.
The cinematography of “1917” is unlike anything I have ever seen before. The entire movie is one unbroken shot.
In a normal film, the camera cuts between different shots and angles to tell the story it wants to, but “1917,” like “Birdman” before it, uses cleverly hidden cuts throughout the film to give it the appearance of one long take.
Down in the trenches and through no man’s land, the camera follows our protagonists with very tight close-up shots, letting us know exactly how they are feeling just by being up close and personal with them. This adds to the claustrophobia and terror of crossing into unknown territory that is conveyed to the audience.
The aforementioned close-ups and the nature of a one-shot movie puts the viewer right in the shoes of the two soldiers and increases the empathy felt by the viewer tenfold.
There are one hundred different ways that Mendes and his legendary cinematographer on this film, Roger Deakins, could have shot this movie, but the way that they chose to do it makes it one of the most visceral and memorable war films I have ever seen.
I would seriously consider this to be on the same level as “Saving Private Ryan”; it’s that amazing. There is a mini-documentary on YouTube that chronicles the technological hurdles the production had to overcome to bring this vision to life, and I highly recommend checking it out.
The caliber of actors that were assembled for “1917” is truly breathtaking. Acting legends like Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong all make appearances for short amounts of time, and all of them absolutely knock their performances out of the park.
If I had one quibble with this, however, it would be that seeing these big actors just pop up and then leave was a little distracting.
They were barely utilized for the marketing, so when they come on screen, it takes the viewer out of the moment for a split second to say, “I didn’t know he was going to be in this.”
It’s like when Matt Damon just shows up two-thirds into “Interstellar.” He’s a great addition to the cast, but on the first viewing, it is distracting. Considering that we spend the lion’s share of the movie with them, Chapman and MacKay both do commendable jobs.
I never doubted anyone’s performance for a second, and MacKay really stands out for both his emotional range and his physicality.
I look forward to seeing him in more things in the near future.
There have only been a few movies that I have seen in theaters that left me at a loss for words, but “1917” is most assuredly one of those.
I needed a good amount of time to process exactly what I just watched when it was all over, and once I got all my thoughts together, I couldn’t wait to see it again.
For both film buffs and casual movie fans, “1917” is a unique cinematic experience that everyone should enjoy while it’s still in theaters.

BENJAMIN HAYLETT
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