“This is the best film I have seen since American Beauty (1999).” Dunkirk review
So ended the review of Dunkirk (2017), which scored a rating of 4.75.
1917 (2019) is a better achievement than Dunkirk and it is co-written and directed by Sam Mendes, who directed American Beauty. Ah thesymmetry.
Mendes’ film is adapted from stories told to him by his grandfather, Lance-Corporal Alfred Mendes. It recalls an incident from World War I. Two runners are sent across No-Man’s Land to issue an order to stop an attack, which could save 1600 British lives.
It is a good story but the way it is filmed, in an imagined single shot, is the key to its success. Rarely does the viewer get a chance to breathe as the action continues.
Mendes’ direction is responsible for this method but the adventure then has to be filmed. Here the real star of 1917 emerges: cinematographer Roger Deakins.
The camera follows the runners, Lance-Corporals Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman), every inch of their journey and there are breathtaking scenes shot in heavily-manned trenches, often narrow enough for only one person to walk.
How did Deakins do it? The camera is pointed close-range on the actors’ back or in front of them all the time and moves in synchronisation with the running soldiers.
At one point Schofield dives into a fast-flowing river and his uncontrolled passage down this waterway is filmed as though a camera was mounted on another person following the same path. However, there is no water splashing on the lens or head sinking under like the actor in shot. It is extraordinary photography.
How in heavens name did he do it? Deakins has been oft nominated for Academy Award honours, winning once for Blade Runner 2049 (2017). If he doesn’t win a second for this movie the awards will lose complete credibility.
One may not understand wine or horses or cars or even what is a pretty woman or a handsome man but most of us recognise a far-superior product, say Grange Hermitage, Kingston Town, e-type Jaguar, Catherine Deneuve, Warren Beatty? The camera work in 1917 is of such high calibre for a layman to mention it in the same breath as these.
The sets of 1917 – the reconstruction of trenches and tunnels; destroyed French villages; farmland and fields devastated by warfare – are also astonishing. As in the cinematography, more than once I sat back in my chair and thought: “How did they do that?”
Parasite (2019) has lately been mentioned as a possible Best Film winner at this year’s Oscars. What a great film.
However, there can only be one winner and you should take it to the bank (if you still trust such joints?) that this year’s Best Film is 1917.
The following day Parasite was named Best Film at the Oscars.