I have a recurring dream.
It’s a common one.
In it I am a soldier trying to evade the grasp of my enemy in a war zone. I sneak around fields, towns, villages often being spotted, running for my life. Sometimes I spot the enemy from afar preparing to attack and a sense of dread overwhelms me. It last all night.
The dream interpreters, not particularly surprisingly, suggest this reflects some form of conflict one are facing in one’s life.
Today, in the cinema I witnessed that dream come to life, imagined by Sam Mendes in a Hades like no other.
Totally and utterly terrifying.
It’s a true story based on the experience of Mendes’ grandfather, Alfred, who shared a fragment of what happened with his grandson.
Mendes’ career is largely theatre-based, and many film critics believe theatre makers do not make good film makers. Yes, they might be strong on dialogue and characterisation but they tend to be weaker on cinematography.
One way to resolve this is to create your movies with Roger Deakins, surely the greatest cinematographer in history – given not only his ridiculously great eye but also the technology he has to further enhance his art.
There can be NO doubt that this is as much Deakins’ movie as it is Mendes’. He was Oscar nominated 12 times before he finally landed one for Bladerunner 2049 (along the way his greatness has blessed No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, Faro and The Assasination of Jesse James…). This will be his second. There can be no doubt about that.
The combination of stunning grading, extremely long takes and unworkeoutable steadycam technique defies logic, description and understanding. It is mesmerising.
Remember the first 20 minutes of Speilberg’s Saving Private Ryan, arguably the greatest War movie of all time? Would you agree with me that the remaining 90 minutes is patchy at best? Well, 1917 begins more slowly, but no less electrifyingly, as we settle into Deakins’ art. The difference though is that the remaining 90 minutes of 1917 grab you by the throat and do not let off.
It’s completely overwhelming.
Technical movies of this competence don’t always have great acting performances. And this won’t win George Mackay an Oscar, probably not even a nomination, but he does not let the side down, neither does his supporting actor Dean-Charles Chapman, but although this is SUCH a human story it’s the sheer scale and bravado of the overall thing that is what makes it such a compelling piece of filmmaking.
Some will lament the fact that this is so, but I believe Mendes has found the balance.
One other thing Thomas Newman’s soundtrack is so gripping, so menacing that jeopardy is maintained for it’s entirety, it’s a significant achievement.
He has created a nightmare vision that out-horrors even the likes of The Exorcist, because this is no fantasy, this is reality, and it feels like it.
Truly a seminal cinema experience. This will only be half the movie on your TV set so get up and get down to your local big screen, before it’s too late.
The movie of the year (although I’ve yet to see Parasite) in an already epic year.