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Movie review: ‘1917’ year to remember

“1917” is one of the most astonishing accomplishments in cinema history.

Director Sam Mendes, working with legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, is said to have filmed “1917” in one take.

However, based on the names listed in the “1917” end credits, dozens if not hundreds of artists and technicians were employed to accomplish the film’s computer generated imagery.

It would be more accurate to describe “1917” as having been filmed in continuous takes for numerous scenes.

In whatever way Mendes worked his cinematic magic, “1917” is a gripping, tension-filled, remarkable film that takes its place along some of the great war films, including “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), “Paths Of Glory” (1957) and “Letters From Iwo Jima” (2006).

What “1917” especially has going for it is that it tells a simple, but compelling story, that of two British soldiers, Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Cpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), who are ordered by Gen. Erinmore (Colin Firth in what amounts to a cameo) to go behind enemy lines in France to deliver a letter to Col. Mac­Kenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch in what amounts to a cameo), warning him that his planned attack on retreating German soldiers is a trap because the Germans are not retreating, but plan to ambush the British. At stake are the lives of some 1,600 British soldiers.

Making the assignment personal is that Blake’s brother, Lt. Joseph Blake (Richard Madden, extraordinary in a brief, but important scene), is among the British soldiers at the ready for the presumably doomed attack of the German soldiers. Also memorable in a small but pivotal role is Mark Strong as Capt. Smith.

“1917” takes the form of a quest, where Schofield and Blake face nearly every obstacle imaginable as they walk across the battlefield, dodging bullets, avoiding corpses, negotiating trenches, mud and trip-wire bombs, and are subject to an airplane attack.

The film has the visceral impact of a videogame, where the viewer closely identifies with the protagonists and the peril they face. The two soldiers have about two hours to deliver the letter. The film unfolds in approximate real time.

Crucial to the success of “1917” are the performances of MacKay and Chapman as the two soldiers soldiering on.

MacKay has the facial planes of a Stan Laurel and an impassive expression comparable to that of a Buster Keaton. His is a role of few words. His face masks and telegraphs tensions, tenderness and wisdom. He deserved an actor Oscar nomination.

In contrast, Chapman has the role of a talker, whose anecdotes bond the duo as well as entertain the moviegoer.

Mendes (Oscar recipient, director, “American Beauty,” 1999, and director, “Spectre,” 2015; “Skyfall,” 2012; “Revolutionary Road,” 2008) co-wrote the “1917” screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (TV’s “Penny Dreadful,” 2016).

The screenplay has twists and turns that Mendes manages magnificently. “1917” is a work of art, and often a thing of hellish beauty. At times, “1917” has elements of a psychological-thriller and horror film.

Mendes based the film on stories his grandfather Alfred Hubert Mendes, a World War I veteran, to whom the film is dedicated, told him. The plot is based on the German Army’s retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich in 1917.

Mendes is aided by Director of Photography Rogers Deakins (Oscar recipient, cinematography, 2018, “Blade Runner 2049,” and a 15-time time cinematography Oscar nominee, including twice in 2008), who, the credits list as camera operator.

That’s key to the film’s point-of-view success.

The production design (Dennis Gassner, art direction Oscar winner, “Bugsy,” 1991) is superb, hyper-realistic and all-encompassing, with seemingly endless trenches, bombed-out buildings, and abandoned military vehicles.

Adding to the film’s dramatic pulse is the score by Thomas Newman (a 15-time original score Oscar nominee).

That there’s an editing credit, for Lee Smith (Oscar recipient, “Dunkirk,” 2017, and three-time Oscar editing nominee) might also put to question that “1917” is a one-take film.

“1917” is nominated for 10 well-deserved Oscars: cinematography, Roger Deakins; directing, Sam Mendes; makeup and hairstyling, Naomi Donne, Tristan Versluis, Rebecca Cole; original score, Thomas Newman; best picture, Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren, Calloum McDougall, producers; production design, Dennis Gassner and set decoration, Lee Sandales; sound editing, Oliver Tarney, Rachael Tate; sound mixing, Mark Taylor, Stuart Wilson; visual effects, Guillaume Rocheron, Greg Butler, Dominic Tuohy; original screenplay, Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns.

“1917” is a must-see for Oscar fans, history buffs and those who ponder the expenditures of blood and treasure in wars.


MPAA Rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.), for violence, some disturbing images, and language Genre: Drama, War; Run time: 1 hr., 59 min. Distributed by Universal Pictures.

Credit Readers Anonymous:

“1917” was filmed on location in Scotland, England and in Shepperton Studios, England.

Bonus Round:

For a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “1917,” including interviews with the director, actors and the film’s Oscar nominees: https://imdb.to/2uouTXC

Box Office,

Jan. 17-19: The “Bad Boys for Life” sequel, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, opened at No. 1 for the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, with $59.1 million, as the “Doolittle” remake, starring Robert Downey Jr., opened at No. 2 with $22.5 million, and “1917” (10 Oscar nominations) dropped two places from its one-week run at No. 1 with $22.1 million, $76.7 million, four weeks.

4. “Jumanji: The Next Level” dropped one place, $9.5 million, $270 million, six weeks. 5. “Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker” (three Oscar nominations) dropped three places, $8.3 million, $492 million, five weeks. 6. “Just Mercy” dropped one place, $6 million, $19.6 million, four weeks. 7. “Little Women” (six Oscar nominations) dropped one place, $5.9 million, $84.4 million, four weeks. 8. “Knives Out” (one Oscar nomination) moved up one place, $4.3 million, $145.9 million, eight weeks. 9. “Like A Boss” dropped five places, $3.8 million, $16.9 million, two weeks. 10. “Frozen II” (one Oscar nomination) dropped two places, $3.7 million, $464.8 million, nine weeks.

Weekend box office results are based on reporting as of Jan. 19 by the Internet Movie Database and Box Office Mojo websites.


Jan. 25:

“The Gentlemen,”

R: Guy Ritchie directs Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery and Jeremy Strong in the action crime film. A British drug kingpin wants to unload his syndicate to a bunch of Oklahoma billionaires.

“The Turning,”

PG-13: Floria Sigismondi directs Mackenzie Davis, Finn Wolfhard, Brooklynn Prince and Karen Egan in the horror film. A young governess is hired to take care of a boy and girl after their parents die. The screenplay is based on the Henry James’ novella, “The Turn of the Screw.”

Four popcorn boxes out of five popcorn boxes.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY UNIVERSAL PICTURESGeorge MacKay (Lance Corporal Schofield), “1917,” a 10-Oscars nominee