There has been lots of Oscar buzz around Sam Mendes' WWI epic 1917. But is that buzz justified? Short answer: Absolutely.
The performances, the camera work and the direction is outstanding. If you don't already know, the film is presented as one long take, to be as real-time and first person as possible. That means massive amounts of pre-planning, massive set pieces and massive amounts of extras. You do have small intimate moments but it does get big at times.
We follow two young soldiers who are given a special mission. Scattered throughout the film are a few A-List actors who give great performances, albeit brief ones. They play characters who have large ranks, and it seems like the more popular the actor, the higher the rank. Which I thought was an interesting take, because to the soldiers themselves, generals, colonels and other officers were sometimes celebrities themselves among their men. But their roles are brief as the camera is always moving, always following our heroes on their journey.
I wanted to love the hell out of this movie. I am a huge fan of Saving Private Ryan and as the film progressed, I started to feel that this movie IS Saving Private Ryan but set in a different war. Also, having the camera seemingly never cut became, to me at least, a distraction. The movie was not shot all in one take, rather several very long takes and then cleverly edited together. However, I began looking for those edits, hunting for those, rather than thinking about the story.
But on a technical level, I think Sam Mendes did an amazing accomplishment and feat in this movie that should be experienced on the big screen. It's moving, well performed and has some of the best production design you'll see in a WWI movie. I also want to commend the visual effects team who helped paint out some of the tools of the movie making process (wires, roads, crews, etc.). It really feels like you're there.
Mark my words: This will win a lot (if not then some of the top) of Oscar gold.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
PS: for a bonus, check out this behind-the-scenes video.