1917 – Review by Susan Granger

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What’s extraordinary about Sam Mendes’ epic W.W.I film is that it follows the harrowing journey of two young British infantryman in one seemingly continuous shot.

On April 6, 1917, when all phone lines have been cut on the Hindenberg Line in northern France, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) is summoned by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to deliver an important message to Col. Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), directing him not to proceed with a planned advance to the front because the Germans have set an ambush.

Blake has been chosen for this urgent, race-against-time battlefield mission because his older brother (Richard Madden) is part of Mackenzie’s 2nd battalion and the lives of the 1,600 British soldiers at Croisilles Wood depend on their alacrity.

Terrified Blake and his buddy Schofield (George MacKay) embark on a perilous overnight trek across a German-occupied wasteland, dodging barbed wire and booby traps. They’re given a brief lift in a convoy as far as the bombed-out French village of Ecoust, where they encounter a German sniper in the rubble, but, after that, they’re their own.

Scripted by Krysty Wilson-Cairns and director Sam Mendes (“Skyfall,” “Spectre,” “American Beauty”), whose grandfather had been a runner in the war, its storytelling is simple and straightforward, evoking memories of other W.W.I films like “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “War Horse.”

Working closely with Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049”) conceived the minimalist concept as one, nearly uninterrupted shot. That bold artistic decision required six months of extensive preparation, involving timing, rehearsing and blocking each scene, so the camera stayed connected to the characters.

Its ominous effect is augmented by editor Lee Smith, production designers Dennis Gassner & Lee Sandales, costumers Jacqueline Durran & David Crossman, and composer Thomas Newman (a 14-time Oscar nominee). Kudos also to sound mixers Stuart Wilson, Scott Millan & Mark Taylor and sound editor Oliver Tarney.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “1917” is a compelling, immersive 9, an audacious cinematic adventure.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.