With communications down, two young soldiers embark on a mission to alert British forces of an ambush in Sam Mendes' 1917. It should be no surprise that the film awarded Golden Globes for best motion picture, drama, and best director following a limited 2019 run has an 89% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes—though, as you'll see, not everyone's a fan. Four takes:
- "It's largely about death, or the risk of death, but in addressing some of the horrors of this particular war, Mendes has made a film that feels wholly alive," writes Stephanie Zacharek at Time. She argues the movie's "inherent devotion to life and beauty is part of its power," but "the true key to its effectiveness is the face of … [actor] George MacKay." "For the duration of 1917, he's our boy," and his face "haunts you after the screen dims."
- MacKay and costar Dean-Charles Chapman "are marvels of naturalness on screen." But the direction and cinematography take the cake for Caryn James. "The light is a drama in itself," while Mendes' "dazzling" use of long takes and few edits to make the film appear as one continuous shot "enhances tension and immediacy, allowing us to feel connected to the two heroes," she writes at the BBC, calling it "one of the most stirring films" of 2019.
- Manohla Dargis thoroughly disagrees. "The illusion of seamlessness draws attention away from the messengers," she writes at the New York Times, describing a "sanitized war picture … that turns one of the most catastrophic episodes in modern times into an exercise in preening showmanship." Indeed, the filmmaking "registers as grandstanding," she writes. "It's too bad and it's frustrating, because the two leads make appealing company."
- Mendes' technique "could easily have become a gimmick." Instead, it's an "impressive cinematic accomplishment," pulled off with "real audacity and technical wizardry," Brian Lowry writes at CNN. For him, the key is that Mendes "doesn't sacrifice the movie's heart in the service of its logistical considerations." Rather, it illustrates all the horrors of war "in visceral, occasionally gut-wrenching fashion."
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