The Film to End all Films.Every so often a film is released that leaves the audience in breathtaking awe. Hundreds of eyes are captivated by the enthralling moments played out on the big silver screen and for a short while the mind actually believes it is there at that particular point in time. It is the way cinema was intended to be received but very few films hook the paying public long enough to be considered a masterpiece.
"1917" is Sam Mendes' masterpiece, and yes, it is that good. So much so that I believe it will go down as one of the greatest war films ever made. With such modern classics as "Saving Private Ryan", "The Thin Red Line" and "Dunkirk", firmly entrenched into our cinematic war experiences, most valued film critics would have no trouble mentioning Mendes' epic WWI drama in the same breath. It is rare that all aspects of film-making come together so seamlessly. At some point an iconic piece of art will reveal its weak link but this is very hard to discover in a film that reflects so much human spirit, courage and survival against the backdrop of violent chaos and tragedy. The story is uncomplicated. The characters are relatable.
And every scene screams out a sense of truth and reality of an era remembered as the saddest in all human existence.
Filmed as one long scene and based on stories told to Mendes by his grandfather, the drama begins in the hurly-burly confines of the trenches at a particularly critical time. The Germans are on the run or so it seems. But the fact is that the enemy has strategically their offensive front to conserve the infantry after heavy losses and troop relocation. Historically it will become known as the Hindenburg Line; a reorganising of the German battle strategy that they hoped would win them the war.
The plot is superbly simple. General Erinmore (Colin Firth) sends Lance Corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) on a suicide mission, deep into enemy territory to deliver a message to Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) ordering him to seize his immanent attack and stopping the slaughter of sixteen hundred men, including the life of Corporal Blake's older brother, Lieutenant Joseph Blake (Richard Madden). To make matters ever more desperate, the two soldiers must convey the orders by the following morning, exasperating a race against time that sees them confronted with all too recognisable war-time obstacles that seem almost impossible to overcome. While the performances of the all British cast are first class, especially that of George MacKay who is present throughout every minute of the film, their being is secondary to the mesmerising scope of the set locations and the horror that is the theatre of war. Every possible detail has been skillfully added to each situation that the viewer will temporarily forget they are watching a fictional drama. Take a closer look at life inside the trenches or the bomb craters with the remains of the unfortunate dead and you will begin to understand the grandiose task that needed to be conquered by Mendes and his film crew. But the true celebrated achievement should go to the thrilling progression that sets an exhausting pace and leaves the viewer panting minute by minute from a racing heartbeat.
Sam Mendes has always set a high standard with his direction and ownership in relation to his work but with "1917" he has taken his career to a different level and has placed the bar high in the art of film direction. 10/10.