December 18, 2019 – This action-packed film that looks like it was all shot with one continuous camera exposure is an emotional, compelling and inspiring hero's journey through the nightmare setting of trench warfare.
Award-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Fargo” and “Skyfall”) uses a lot of imaginative setups to capture the action in this film through a dizzying array of swirling, swooping, traveling camera shots, with seldom a cut from one angle to another. Deakins is a sure bet to win some cinematography awards, and maybe another Oscar to go with the one he got last year for “Blade Runner 2049” with this work. It is a real tour de force.
The story is a simple one, made complex by the path of the journey itself. Two men are given the task of delivering a message through dangerous enemy territory. The message, if delivered in time, will prevent a massacre. Aerial reconnaissance indicates Colonel MacKenzie (played by Benedict Cumberbatch of “Doctor Strange”) is about to lead the 1,600 men under his command into a deadly ambush. The message, from his commanding general, orders him to stop the attack.
Lance Corporal Blake (played by Dean-Charles Chapman of “The Commuter”) is chosen for this dangerous mission because his brother serves in the unit in danger that his message will save. He is told to choose someone to join him in this mission before he is told how dangerous the mission is. He chooses his friend, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay of “Captain Fantastic”). When Schofield finds out how dangerous this mission is, he informs Blake just how much he hates being chosen for it.
Blake and Schofield set off across No Man's Land from Allied trenches across the German lines in broad daylight, despite Schofield arguing that they should wait until cover of darkness. Blake is anxious to save his brother, while Schofield urges caution. The two press onward, discovering that, as predicted, the Germans have retreated from the positions they had held just hours before.
The story is based partly on tales told this film's director, Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”) by his grandfather, Alfred Mendes, who was a lance corporal in the First Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (this film is dedicated to him). The story is based on events in the spring of 1917, after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line in France during Operation Alberich.
Part of the soldiers' journey is underground, through rat-infested German tunnels. Schofield is nearly killed when a rat sets off a booby trap explosion, but he is rescued by Blake, who digs him out of the rubble and guides him out of the tunnels just before a cave-in. The journey is filled with such dangers, snipers, a river crossing and encounters with German soldiers who try to shoot them on sight. The horrors of war, dead horses, crows and rats eating the corpses of soldiers are often seen all along this harrowing journey.
This is also an emotional journey as the soldiers make some unexpected personal encounters along the way. This is a very compelling story, well acted and directed. In addition to the great cinematography, the musical score by the award-winning Thomas Newman is also memorable. There is also a haunting A cappella performance of “I am a Poor Wayfaring Stranger” by Jos Slovick late in the film. This film rates an A.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.