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“1917” Is An Absolute Technical Marvel With Some Of Roger Deakins’ Best Cinematography

Whenever a filmmaker attempts and pulls off something really noteworthy, it’s cause for celebration. What Sam Mendes has managed to accomplish with 1917 is truly stunning. Yes, I have some small critiques of the film that make it seem like I’m not as over the moon for it as most of my colleagues, but this is still a technical achievement basically unparalleled in recent cinematic history. This is not just a war movie. If it were just that, it would still be worthy of acclaim. However, what we have here is both a passion project and an evolution of the medium, all in one.

The film is, as you might have guessed, a war drama, taking place in 1917 during the height of World War One. Specifically, it centers on two young British infantrymen about to be sent into hell. When Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) is told he has a mission and needs to grab one fellow soldier, he chooses his friend Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay). They’re brought to meet General Erinmore (Colin Firth), who informs them of their secret mission. They must go behind enemy lines in order deliver a message to stop an attack by British troops, since the Germans are setting a deadly trap. Black and Schofield must head way in enemy territory, risking their lives, so that 1,600 men, including Blake’s brother, from being ambushed and slaughtered. Crossing into No Man’s Land, they find danger at every turn, though the less said about what specifically happens, the better. Mendes directs and co-writes with Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Rounding out the cast are the high profile likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden, Andrew Scott, and Mark Strong, as well as a handful of others. Lee Smith edits the picture, Thomas Newman composes the score, while the staggering and stunning cinematography is by none other than Roger Deakins. All are working at incredibly high levels.

First and foremost, the cinematography here is all-time level. Roger Deakins has long been one of film’s all time great cinematographers, that goes without saying, but 1917 is his finest hour. Moreover, it’s one of the most stunning technical achievements in ages. Deakins really outdoes himself, though he’s hardly alone here. Composer Thomas Newman and editor Lee Smith are working seamlessly with Sam Mendes, creating a symphony of technical prowess. You may see or be able to guess where the “cuts” are, but the concept of this being shot in a single take holds steady throughout. If there’s one tiny shortcoming, it’s that the emotions don’t always connect, making this more clinical than evocative. Not everyone will feel this way, but at points, especially in the third act, I found myself more intellectually engaged than feeling it in my heart.

1917 is a major Academy Award player. Look for Sony to have this one as their main Oscar pony, as it conceivably could score double digit nominations. Best Picture, Best Director (for Mendes), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Original Score seem like safe bets, with Best Original Screenplay (for Mendes and Wilson-Cairns), Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, and Best Visual Effects certainly in play as well. Right now, it’s hard to imagine this one not taking Cinematography and at least one of the Sound categories. Hell, it may even be the one to finally make Thomas Newman a winner, in addition to making the aforementioned Roger Deakins a two time victor.

Tomorrow, prepare yourself for a wholly unique war film in 1917. Mendes and company tackle World War I in a way you’ve never seen before. The movie is incredibly visceral, so even if the emotional element isn’t 100% there for you, it’s still a technical marvel. See this one on the biggest screen possible, with the best sound possible. You’ll thank me later…

Be sure to check out 1917, in theaters Christmas Day!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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