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Sam Mendes’ ‘extraordinary’ World War One epic 1917 storms into the Oscars race

Sam Mendes’ World War One epic 1917 has been met by rave reviews from critics who say there’s no doubt the film will storm next year’s Oscars race. 

1917 was the last of this year’s Oscars contenders to be screened over the weekend – and critics say it rivals beloved wartime films such as Saving Private Ryan, All Quiet on the Western Front and Gone with the Wind.  

The film, based in part on an account told to Mendes by his paternal grandfather Alfred Mendes, a Great War message carrier, is set at the height of the conflict in the spring of 1917, just as the US entered the war. 

It follows two British corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) who are sent on a suicide mission to warn comrades about a looming ambush by the Germans.    

Blake and Schofield are in a riveting race against the clock as they cut through No Man’s Land in northern France and into enemy territory to deliver the message to Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) to stop the attack and prevent the slaughter of 1,600 British troops – one of them Blake’s brother (Richard Madden). 

The two-hour movie was shot all in one take, allowing the audience to travel alongside Blake and Schofield on their gut-wrenching trek through the war-torn region.

Sam Mendes’ World War One epic 1917 has been met by rave reviews from critics who say there’s no doubt the film will storm next year’s Oscars race. Set at the height of World War One in the spring of 1917, the film follows British corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) as they are sent on a suicide mission to warn comrades about a looming ambush by the Germans

Critics have said Mendes (pictured) is sure to be in the conversation for best director, which would be his second nomination and second win

Critics have said Mendes (pictured) is sure to be in the conversation for best director, which would be his second nomination and second win

Variety’s Brent Lang wrote that while other Oscar contenders such as Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, and Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood have spent weeks courting Academy voters, 1917’s ‘epic sweep and undeniable artistry likely means that it has a strong chance of making the cut despite its 11th hour entry into the race’. 

Lang said Mendes is sure to be in the conversation for best director, which would be his second nomination and second win, after topping the category for American Beauty in 1999. 

IndieWire’s Kate Erbland agreed with Mendes’ nomination prospects, praising him for harnessing the one-shot technique ‘into something fresh’.

‘Not just a mechanism to build tension, it immerses viewers in the complete unpredictability of life during wartime,’ Erbland wrote. 

‘The camera, of course, can only point in one direction at a time, and that’s the true thrust of Mendes’ big idea: You can only see what’s allowed, and in a time loaded with unknown variables, you’re always going to be searching for developments just outside the frame.’ 

Mendes (right) is seen coaching MacKay on the set of 1917 in Glasgow in June

Mendes (right) is seen coaching MacKay on the set of 1917 in Glasgow in June 

The two-hour movie was shot all in one take, allowing the audience to travel alongside Blake and Schofield on their gut-wrenching trek through the war-torn region

The two-hour movie was shot all in one take, allowing the audience to travel alongside Blake and Schofield on their gut-wrenching trek through the war-torn region

Polygon’s Matt Patches took a much different stance on the one-shot style, calling it ‘a noble, failed experiment in breaking the rules’.

‘The single-shot-movie gimmick has an obvious appeal for a theater-trained director like Sam Mendes; just as audiences look past the stage and lights of a theater to home in on the drama, erasing the conventions of camerawork and editing could emphasize the physicality of performance,’ Patches wrote. 

‘In a completely continuous environment, each line, each step, each loss could mean more than it does in a less calculated project. 

‘But despite over 100 years of meditation on what happened to the men sent to fight in World War I, the film can’t find a voice to amplify — except for Mendes’ own.’

The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde agreed that the one-shot style hinders the film’s emotional impact.  

‘Between the unexpected bursts of violence in the script by Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns and the fact that most of the mission is being presented in what appears to be actual time, “1917” offers few opportunities for the audience to exhale,’ Duralde wrote. 

‘As such, the movie is more successful as a thriller than as a thoughtful examination of war and its horrors; Mendes seems less interested in bigger ideas about the nightmare of battle and its effects on his characters than he is in Hitchcockian audience manipulation.’ 

'The camera, of course, can only point in one direction at a time, and that's the true thrust of Mendes' big idea: You can only see what's allowed, and in a time loaded with unknown variables, you're always going to be searching for developments just outside the frame,' IndieWire's Kate Erbland wrote

‘The camera, of course, can only point in one direction at a time, and that’s the true thrust of Mendes’ big idea: You can only see what’s allowed, and in a time loaded with unknown variables, you’re always going to be searching for developments just outside the frame,’ IndieWire’s Kate Erbland wrote

Benedict Cumberbatch

Colin Firth

In smaller supporting roles are Benedict Cumberbatch (left) and Colin Firth (right)

At Mendes’ right hand was cinematographer Roger Deakins, who many critics said would also receive a nod from the Academy – the 15th of his career. 

‘At times, the camera can make us feel like a third character along for the ride, and we the audience share in their anxiety,’ Variety’s Lang wrote. 

‘At a Manhattan screening, Deakins’ name on the screen seemed to generate the loudest applause.’ 

SlashFilm’s Chris Evangelista also offered high praise for Deakins, writing that he ‘is already held in high regard as one of the best cinematographers in the biz, but here, he even outdoes himself. 

‘Aside from the consistently traveling camera, Deakins also gets to stage awe-inspiring sequences that burn themselves into your brain,’ Evangelista wrote.  

‘The shadows bend and twist themselves, turning the ruins into an almost alien landscape. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.’ 

If Deakins wins, as many critics have suggested he should, it would mark his second Oscar in three years after winning for Blade Runner 2049 in 2018. 

Critics also praised editor Lee Smith for crafting the footage into a film so seamless it’s virtually impossible to find where the shot was spliced.  

The film is embellished with a dramatic score by composer Thomas Newman, who has collaborated with Mendes on seven projects and has 14 Oscar nominations under his belt. 

Erbland said 1917 constitutes Newman’s ‘boldest and best work yet, a never sentimental and wholly original entry into the pantheon of war movie scores’. 

At Mendes' right hand was cinematographer Roger Deakins (pictured), who many critics said would also receive a nod from the Academy - the 15th of his career

The film is embellished with a dramatic score by composer Thomas Newman (pictured), who has collaborated with Mendes on seven projects and has 14 Oscar nominations under his belt

At Mendes’ right hand was cinematographer Roger Deakins (left), who many critics said would also receive a nod from the Academy – the 15th of his career. The film is embellished with a dramatic score by composer Thomas Newman (right), who has collaborated with Mendes on seven projects and has 14 Oscar nominations under his belt

MacKay and Chapman were both lauded for their compelling performances as war-wearied soldiers digging for what’s left of their will to carry out the ill-fated mission. 

Erland wrote that while the cast as a whole is impressive – with famous faces such as Cumberbatch, Madden, Colin Firth and Andrew Scott – MacKay is the clear standout. 

‘It’s the most adult role the British actor has played yet, but one that relies on his puppy-dog eyes to further sell the great horror of WWI and the many young men it stole from the world,’ she wrote. 

However, Lang felt that MacKay and Chapman would likely be overlooked for respective best actor and supporting actor nods because the roles are far more subtle than other contenders. 

‘It’s hard to see [MacKay] knocking off Robert De Niro (“The Irishman”), Jonathan Pryce (“The Two Popes”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker”), Adam Driver (“Marriage Story”) or DiCaprio (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”), all of whom have showier roles,’ Lang wrote. 

Similarly, he wrote of Chapman: ‘Supporting actor is overflowing with meaty performances, which likely means he won’t make the grade.’   

 1917 will be released in the US on December 25, in Australia on January 7, 2020, and in the UK on January 10, 2020.

Oscar nominations will be announced on January 22, 2020. 

1917 will be released in the US on December 25, in Australia on January 7, 2020, and in the UK on January 10, 2020

1917 will be released in the US on December 25, in Australia on January 7, 2020, and in the UK on January 10, 2020

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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