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Thread: 1917 (Sam Mendes 2019)

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    1917 (Sam Mendes 2019)

    SAM MENDES: 1917 (2019)


    GEORGE MCKAY IN 1917

    Mission impossible

    Most war stories focused on infantrymen are collective stories. The soldier is part of a structure: squad, platoon, company, battalion, regiment. At the lower levels or perhaps any level the aim is not to be noticed. But Sam Mendes' thrilling, remarkable World War I film is about a mere lance corporal, Will Schofield (George McKay), who is sent on an urgent and seemingly impossible mission and must go it alone, against the tide and in face of great danger. It's only by a miracle that he gets through. He carries an order that saves 1500 men from slaughter by the Germans by cancelling a doomed assault. This is a harrowing tale with a "real time" feel. The story which Mendes created with cowriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns is (as we're told at the end) freely reconstructed from the accounts of Mendes' grandfather about his own wartime experience.

    Yes, it's a tour de force, which has impressed some critics and annoyed others. (Their displeasure has brought down the Metascore.) They're all talking about the writer-director's choice to have the noted cinematographer Roger Deaakins shoot and the editors cut the film to look like a string of continual "long shots." Yes, the filmmakers refrain from the choppy back-and-forth fast cuts enabled by digital, which so few can resist. The shots and edits of 1917 contribute to a sense of unbroken attention to L/Cpl Schofield. But if you didn't know what a "long shot" or a "single take" were, this wouldn't be such a big deal, because it's just closer to how we experience life.

    What to me seems more singular about 1917 is the remarkably detailed and realistic mise-en-scène. All the focus is on L/Cpl Schofield and the man who gets the assignment and takes him along, L/Cl Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), who doesn't make it all the way. But Mendes has given us as extraordinarily suggestive a picture of the WWI Western European Front as we've ever seen. There are the ravaged fields, the ruined French farms and villages, the camps. Including of course the trenches, very elaborate English ones and later, when the men are crossing enemy lines, a set of quite different abandoned German ones ("Even their rats are bigger," the young men note). This to me is what was distracting, not the shots, but in a good way. The WWI battlefield landscape is rich and wonderful. The soggy clay dirt, the puddles of wet, the nasty barbed wire, the rats: it all comes to life. They are in it, and so are we.

    There is a terrific scene when L/Cl Schofield gets through a division of trenches going the wrong way, then encounters a traffic jam of motley big and little lorries with a very grumpy British officer yelling to be let through. The Lance Corporal is identified and put in a vehicle jammed with men from all over, then it's he who leads the push to, well, push it out of the mud when it gets stuck. The glory, the absurdity, the fear, and the muck: Mendes captures it all, while only tracking one man. The $90 million production budget has been used astutely.

    Also terrific are the two main actors (not counting some notables, including Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and "Fleabag's" Andrew Scott, also good in minor roles). Chapman and McKay have 1917 young Englishmen faces. McKay, at 27 a veteran actor whose first film came when he was eleven, isn't handsome. But he is chiseled, innocent, and fresh in a way that reads right for the period. He has a distant look of old photos. For me it's believable that when he's left to complete the mission alone, he takes the sense of duty doubly upon himself, despite his earlier wish that Blake had picked someone, anyone, else.

    Could one young man do all this?P Perhaps. There are extraordinary acts of valor in war and moments of freak luck. L/Cl Schofield already has won a medal, though he traded it to a Frenchman for a bottle of wine. It's just a piece of tin, he says. "There was a ribbon too," says C/PL Blake. There's sprezzatura in that trade that hints this man is made of finer mettle than at first appears. This adventure is more germane and more conceivable than the six-year one we see played out in Václav Marhoul's adaptation of Jerzy Kosiński's The Painted Bird.

    Mendes says he meant to make an action film, not a war film. Like Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, with whose complex chronology 1917 is a stark contrast, Mendes is at least reshaping the genre and visibly smashing conventions, realistically recreating historical events in new ways. He has made one of the best films of the year, one that needs to be pondered. This is just a quick note from the Front. To be seen, like DUnkirk, in the largest format possible.

    1917, 119 mins., debuted in the UK Dec. 4, 2019 in a royal command performance. Limited US release Christmas 2019; wider US and UK release, Jan. 10, 2020. Metascoore: 79%.


    DEAN-CHARLES CHAPMAN, GEORGE MCKAY IN 1917


    GEORGE MCKAY IN 1917
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-05-2020 at 10:21 AM.

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    George McKay is becoming more prominent on the cinematic map now: he's the lead in two big productions. First this, Sam Mendes' 1917. Next, the lead in February release The True History of Ned Kelly (watch the trailer). And this one's a tour de force too, and eccentric retelling whose radical alterations may not meet with wide approval. I previously saw McKay in Matt Ross's Captain Fantastic (2016), where he plays Viggo Mortensen's eldest son, Bo (Bedevan).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-12-2020 at 02:09 AM.

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    French critical response to 1917.

    1917 came out today in France and its AlloCiné press rating (based on a lot of reviews - 34) is a 4.2 (the spectators score is even higher, a whopping 4.5). This is the equivalent of a Metacritic rating of 84% (of 90% for the spectators) - in contrast to the actual one of 79%, which is high, but considering the accomplishment, somewhat niggling.

    There are some negative views expressed, such as the "con" side of Première's two-part review, which accuses Mendes of being a copycat filmmaker, who has imitated Nolan's Batman in his Skyfall James Bond treatment, and with major debuts to Dunkirk as well as Saving Private Ryan and Paths of Glory this time. And others found the immersiveness too calculating.

    But overall the French critics seem to have grasped better than the American ones that a movie can be a technical tour de force and yet also utterly absorbing and convincing. Caroline Vié of 20 Minutes writes, "The filmmaker can be reassured: the race against the clock in the heart of chaos is so absorbing that we forget his virtuosity." Eric Neuhoff of Le Figaro: "The immersion is total." This can't happen if you're constantly telling yourself, as Anglophone critics apparently are, "This camerawork is showoff-y."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-15-2020 at 10:15 AM.

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    Mike D'Angelo's 'subscribers review' of 1917 - he rates it a 61, pretty high for him.

    The latest in his Patreon (not published) reviews sent to subscribers.

    He gives it a 61, which puts it 24th in his 2019 list. He doesn't like "oners" "(even the name grates)". But while he thinks it was "a dumb idea to create the illusion of a single unbroken shot," and would prefer a version of the film shot "normally," perhaps "Tarr-style" "with 15 or 20 expertly choreographed plans-séquences? Evidemment." (Or course he would.) But he doesn't think the "absence of visible editing" was "a huge, movie-ruining distraction," because Mendes "makes it obvious where the joins" are like Innaritu in Birdman. There's no sign of sacrificing the quality of a scene to maintain a take, and scenes are "meticulously executed" as in Menedes' other films.

    He "enjoyed it", "which is kind of a damning verb." He experienced it "more or less the same way" he experiences the "Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. But he tells about a friend who "found it so deeply moving that he wound up having to pull his car over on the way home from the theater, lest his tears obscure his view of the road." (This reminded me of my experience with Karim Aïnouz's INVISIBLE LIFE, which I reviewed here last month, only more intense.) He is never as moved as he is by "All Quiet on the Western Front or Paths of Glory,". In fact it's hard to see quite how he rates it so high, but he does.

    I am a little like this. I rate 1917 high, higher than #24. (Most of D'Angelo's 2019 top ten I haven't even seen, and sound obscure, but Knives OUt, Uncut Gems, Parasite and Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood ground it a bit.) but at moments in the two times I've watched the film I've felt like I was on a thrill ride. But at others I was deeply involved, and moved. It's that kind of film.

    But if you're watching/counting "takes," you're not enough involved in the film, and perhaps too conscious of yourself as a critic.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-05-2020 at 07:08 PM.

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