For a film that eventually gets around to showing the grim and gory fallout of war in often-exemplary audiovisual fashion, Sam Mendes’s “1917” opens with a peaceful image: Soft wind caressing a field of flowers against an unbroken blue sky, two young men peacefully dozing away.
A tip for the viewer: Bask in these early moments as much as you can, as quick as you can. It isn’t long before a military commander wakes the two British soldiers, Blake and Schofield. In short order, we learn their mission: To travel some miles away to the frontlines and warn the commander that hundreds are about to waltz into a trap. At stake: 1,600 lives, including Blake’s brother. But the details of this mission, nor the two corporals undertaking it (Dean-Charles Chapman and George McKay, grimy and bloody and dread-stricken), never feel as important as how we see it unfold on the screen—via the illusion of a single unbroken shot, with the camera rarely blinking as Blake and Schofield creep, run and trudge through the battlefields and carnage of World War I Europe.
The presumption is that Mendes and his camera’s conductor – Roger Deakins, more magician than man – are on their own mission to make as immersive a film as the genre has ever seen, to make the viewer feel the rattling stress of second-to-second unpredictability to the same chaotic levels as those on the screen, and to burden us with the same preciously scarce moments of reprieve. You might recall “Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan’s frenetic, claustrophobic war film that is a technical wonder in its own ways, and a movie which “1917” will unjustly be compared to. Continue reading →