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1917


Sam Mendes has done great work before. His "Skyfall" ranks as the best OO7 film of all time for this Bond fan. I knew he had serious chops, but his new WWI film 1917 is fantastic.

How he and his director of photography Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049, Sicario) did it, I have no idea, but the entire film is a series of very long, continuous camera shots.

It isn't a trick, it's a miracle.

They first experimented with this kind of continuous shot in the pre-title Mexico City sequence in "Spectre" and that was stunning, but nothing compared to their achievements here.

We meet young, exhausted Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman from "Game of Thrones") and Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) as they are summoned to meet with a General (Colin Firth) with a very dangerous assignment.

A regimen of 1600 men is about to advance against the retreating German forces, but new intel shows its a lethal trap and they will all be killed.

Blake's brother is in that force. The General tells the two men to leave immediately and cross enemy lines and the vast countryside to deliver orders for them to abort the attack.

From that moment, we are the camera circling them through that day, night and morning on their mission. The long tracking shots through the trenches echo Stanley Kubrick/Kirk Douglas in "Paths of Glory" one of Mendes' inspirations for the film, along with his Grandfather's stories of the war.

The production design and sets are massive scale recreations of war-torn cities. Deaths are unexpected, the enemy appears at the most random times and the physical battles they endure are felt in a way I haven't seen portrayed since Leonardo DiCaprio battled bears, tribes and the elements in "The Revenant".

A night time scene lit only by falling flares, gunfire and bombs is wholly original, fresh and hypnotic. It's brilliant film-making.

The suspense is almost unbearable and non-stop for the entire film, keeping you on the edge of your seat as these two young men battle for their lives and the lives of their fellow soldiers.

Time is the true enemy here as the clock ticks down to the start of the attack and our messengers have to fight for every mile.

Mendes and Deakins save their greatest visual and full scale effects tricks for the conclusion as the final mile proves to be the toughest.

Thomas Newman's music score is one of his best, never overwhelming the action, but perfectly escalating the tension at all the right moments.

With over a mile of trenches dug for the film, six months of preparation for the action scenes and takes as long as 8 1/2 minutes, the sheer preparation for the shoot pays off in jaw dropping scene after scene.

With 10 Oscar nominations, its very likely to win for Best Cinematography and Best Director. It certainly deserves Best Picture as well. In a year it battles "Parasite" and "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood" for that title, we're the clear winners as movie lovers. Any one of the three would be a great pick.

For me, 1917 is one of the best films of the past couple years and the best war film since "Saving Private Ryan". It's emotionally powerful, wound taut and full of surprises. It gets an A+.

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