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MOVIE REVIEW: Sam Mendes proves that simplicity is key with 1917 war epic ★★★★

Photo credit: François Duhamel/Universal Pictures

Given that 1917 is currently a magnet for critical acclaim and big shiny film awards, it isn’t too much of a stretch to believe that the war epic is the decade’s answer to Saving Private Ryan; the 90’s hit that quickly became the godfather of the genre. Having been a huge fan of the Tom Hanks classic, I was eager to view Sam Mendes’ newly released magnum opus to see what all the fuss was about.

My conclusion?

1917 surpasses its predecessor in more ways than one.

The simplicity of the plot is 1917’s greatest strength; two British soldiers are tasked with travelling behind enemy lines to deliver a message that could potentially save the lives of over a thousand men. Not having to concern itself with convoluted side quests or unnecessary detail really streamlines the film and allows the script to focus on developing the relationship between the two main protagonists.

Also, bar the beginning of 1917 which moves like it’s got somewhere else to be, the film is well paced, sporting a perfect blend of action set pieces and moments of pure conversation.

Where 1917 starts to fall down however is in Sam Mendes’ artistic decision to shoot the film as if it were all one, unbroken shot. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all in favour of art house style filmmaking – for small art house films. I don’t necessarily believe it translates well onto a multi-million-pound war film made for a mass audience. Mendes is constantly at the mercy of his prized ‘one shot’ and can never pull away to a new scene for reprieve, even if at points, his film desperately needs it.

In the end, 1917 is a victory for clean scriptwriting and engaging action. More importantly however, it reinforces the key ingredient to making a compelling film – keep it simple.

To find out what inspired Sam Mendes to make 1917, click this link.


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