1917 Movie Review: It is Much More than a War Epic, It’s a Masterpiece

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Rating: *****(5 stars)

At the end of Sam Mendes’ 1917 I heard someone sobbing. I realized it was me. After spending two hours in the trenches with two of the bravest heroes ever seen, boys who should  be out  in a pub rather than  defending Britain against  Germany,  I realized the only good thing that comes from the act  of war, is a masterpiece of cinema  like  1917.

To  label 1917 an epic masterpiece is a gross understatement. For two agonizing  immersive hours, the film puts you on the war front with two achingly young and earnest British soldiers Will Schofield (George  MacKay) and  Tim Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) as they trudge along the punishing route to inform an endangered battalion to call off their proposed attack against the Germans that  could kill 16,00 soldiers.

 The camera  has never been a bigger ally for the  allied forces. Roger Deakins’ restless  camera  trails  our two heroes  through their traumatic journey with a  diligence and  concentration  that make it impossible  for  us to not get involved and  submerged  in  a journey that takes them through treacherous bunkers, grim greenery and  menacing slush. It is impossible for the audience to sit comfortably with the popcorn in  the theatre  taking in the trauma aloofly.

Director Sam Mendes, constructing a battle arc that is clearly rooted in  real harrowing facts, plunges  into the  lives  of  the two painfully callow heroes to the point where we are filled with loathing for  the  whole process of  war politics. In fact I’d strongly recommend 1917 for all war-mongers in Hindustan who want a combat with Pakistan.

At one point a senior officer (Colin Firth in  a cameo) counsels Schofield who now plods his way with the crucial message  on the battlefront to stop all battle  activities, to make sure there are witnesses around when he conveys  the message. “Because some  officers just want war.”

This film does not really afford us the luxury of getting  to know the  protagonists intimately. They barely get a chance to  speak to each other. But when one of them  dies,  we feel the  loss as intensely the  protagonist who lives. The intense immersive power of 1917 comes  from its brutal dismissal of sentimentality. There is only female character in the film, and she appears  in a sequence of splendid  sublimity. And  towards the  end when Schofield on  the brink of  complete collapse reaches a forest where a British soldier sings  a haunting song about going home to  one’s mother and father,  for his comrades, I could stop the sobs.

For a very long time the  two heroes are seen  running in what seems  like one  long unbroken shot. Mendes apparently shot the entire film in one take. I would find that hard to believe  about any other  film. 1917 aspires to achieve an impossible fusion of war-time frenzy  and  inter-personal  grief, and succeeds beyond all  expectations.

 This is  not  an easy film to  sit through.  It sucks  you into the protagonists’ journey with a  visual and  emotional power that  very few films have  displayed, let alone possessed in  recent or even remote times. Much more than a war epic this is quite simply one of the best films ever made. The other Oscar-nominated films this year simply pale in comparison. Just hand over the damn thing to 1917 and Mendes.

The  sheer immediacy that director Mendes has achieved in  the  narrative is like  a hard punch in the solar plexus. Layering, the inherent  brutality of those war-torn  times with organic episodes of tenderness that never seem imposed, this  film takes us  on  a journey that we can forget. Or forgive.