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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Sam Mendes
scr Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
prd Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris, Jayne-Ann Tenggren, Callum McDougall, Brian Oliver
with George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch, Colin Firth, Claire Duburcq, Daniel Mays, Adrian Scarborough, Jamie Parker, Anson Boon
release US 25.Dec.19,
19/UK DreamWorks 1h59
Breathtakingly shot in what looks like a single harrowing take, Sam Mendes' Great War drama comes from stories his grandfather told him. It's a staggering odyssey for a young soldier, encompassing a variety of encounters that veer from quietly hopeless to nerve-janglingly scary to exhilaratingly heroic. The film also manages to avoid the usual cliches of the genre, simply by remaining so intimate from start to finish.
As the war grinds on, lance-corporals Schofield and Blake (MacKay and Chapman) are charged by General Erinore (Firth) with delivering a message to the front that could save 1,600 troops, including Blake's older brother (Madden). They don't know that German retreat is actually a trap, and Schofield and Blake have only a brief window to escape across no-man's land and through the lines. Their first moment of terror is inside a German tunnel, and from here they encounter a range of soldiers, friendly and murderous, as well as a helpful young woman (Duburq).
Roger Deakins' cinematography is spectacular, never relaxing the tension as the camera hovers closely through action as well as moments of tranquility. Starry cameos are dotted throughout the narrative, helping anchor the story while adding pointed commentary. For example, Strong's officer reminds Schofield that the message should be delivered in front of witnesses, because some men would rather charge into the fight even if they knew everyone was going to die.
There's very little backstory for Schofield or Blake, but MacKay and Chapman offer a deepening sense of their experiences. The less-experienced Blake wants to charge to his brother's rescue, while Schofield has seen the horrors of warfare. As the focal character, MacKay adds textures that, by the end, make him feel like a member of the family. This makes his daring sideways charge across a battlefield heart-pounding. And Strong, Scott, Cumberbatch and especially Madden have pivotal moments along the way.
There are several sequences that evoke chills, from a sudden plane crash to a ruined town lit up at night by falling bombs. Chases are breathless and terrifying. Bodies are everywhere. And Mendes makes sure that the technical bravura is all in service to the story and characters, bringing out deeper themes about the human need to both build and destroy. The digital effects are utterly invisible, the camerawork astonishing and the sound mix visceral, but it's MacKay's face that tells the story, even though he never seems to be acting at all.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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