'1917' review: Sam Mendes' film is haunting, heartbreaking yet the most compelling piece of art

WION Web Team New Delhi Jan 17, 2020, 01.14 PM(IST) Written By: Shomini Sen

1917 Photograph:( Twitter )

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Directed by Sam Mendes, '1917' has earned 10 nominations at the Oscars this year and one won’t be surprised if it takes home the top honours on February 9th. 

"Some men just want the fight,” a Captain in the British army tells Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) halfway into this week’s big release ‘1917’. It’s a line that well establishes the futility of war, which serves as the looming backdrop of Sam Mendes’ latest film. 

Based on a brief anecdote that Mendes heard from his grandfather, the war-drama is haunting, heartbreaking yet the most compelling piece of cinema that one has seen in recent times. It makes you weep silently, it makes you take in the visual extravaganza that cinematographer Roger Deakins provides and makes you root for two uncanny heroes who are on a mission that seems impossible due to the times they are in. 

At the onset, the story seems basic. Its April 1917, three years into the first world war, Lance Corporal Blake(Dean Charles Chapman) and his friend Schofield are assigned by their commanding officer (Colin Firth) to deliver a cautionary message to another battalion of the British army to retract its 1600 strong army from a attacking the enemy- the Germans- as it is a trap that will lead to absolute catastrophe. Blake is chosen to deliver the message as his elder brother is a part of that battalion. Schofield is chosen by Blake as they are friends. 

While the task at hand seems easy but the two young soldiers have to cross German-occupied French towns, save themselves from being ambushed by the enemy and put themselves to test both physically and emotionally- just to deliver the message before dawn breaks because that's when the battalion is set to attack. 

War films never make for an easy watch. After a point, the mayhem that's spilling out on screen can seem a bit too much to take in. But Mendes, who serves as the screenplay writer along with Krysty Wilson-Cairns  (they’ve been nominated in the best screenplay category at the Oscars) narrates a story that is engaging, heartbreaking and gives you goosebumps all at the same time. There are so many moments in the film that stay with you- the one where the two show compassion to a German soldier in the middle of their mission, or when Schofield explains why he hates going back home and doesn’t look forward to it, or when Captain Smith casually cautions the young soldiers that how war serves as an obsession to some men. 

‘1917’ may not have too many dialogues, but it has haunting score by Thomas Newman(nominated at Oscars as well) which enhances the story to another level, much like its brilliant camera work which creates an illusion of one shot, and follows the two soldiers from start to finish and appears to have no cuts. Even as destruction - that is a result of any war- spills out on the screen, each frame is breathtaking. 

The film has earned 10 nominations at the Oscars this year including in best picture, best direction category and one won’t be surprised if it takes home the top honours on February 9th. It deserves all the accolades that it has been getting and perhaps more. 

‘1917’ takes you back to first world war- a topic that has fascinated filmmakers since time immemorial- and yet tells you a sublime story of love, loss, brotherhood, compassion, and bravery shown by two unknown soldiers. Above all, it highlights the futility of war- be it 100 years back, or even in the present day. Do not miss this one. 

Also read: Will Sam Mendes' '1917' become first war film after 'Hurt Locker' to win Best Picture at Oscars?

Oscar nominated film '1917' has been backed by India's Reliance Entertainment

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