1917: Sam Mendes’ war film has a simple story, one of a journey made by two men from point A to point B through a warzone; the goals are clear, so are the stakes. There is nothing particularly new about it nor there is much sense of the main characters, but there isn’t anything particularly bad either. The quality of the craft, however, raises the level of the film as a whole. It may sound like a simply a trick, but the idea to make this film look as if it was shot as one (or two) extended takes makes thematic sense: there is no escape from the journey, no contact with the external world; the war is only what the two characters can see. The work of the director of photography Roger Deakins is stupendous: the camera floats around the action and characters, in shots of different sizes and lighting conditions, often going through unexpected spaces; there are also a few instances of brilliantly beautiful lightning schemes. His partnership with production designer Dennis Gassner is essential to make this work, and Gassner’s sets are phenomenal on themselves; not beautiful on the traditional sense, but the details of a land ravaged by war are always amazing. Sound design and musical score are solid. Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay are very good as the two main characters, and the multitude of performers with short scenes, known and unknown faces, are all very convincing as well.
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