Director: Sam Mendes
Genre: Drama, Action, War, Historical.
Main Cast: Dean Charles Chapman, George MacKay.
Runtime: 119 mins.
IMDb rating: 8.5/10.
My rating: 8.5/10.
Quick summary: Two soldiers are entrusted with a vital mission to save 1,600 of their fellow soldiers. Traversing across No Mans Land, German-occupied cities and harsh conditions, the brothers in arms must rely on each other and themselves to stop a catastrophic ambush in war-torn France.
Lance Corporals Blake (Chapman) and Schofield (McKay) are given a mission that could save thousands of lives. Blake’s brother is part of a force that are advancing on retreating Germans. What the older Blake brother doesn’t know, along with over one thousand other men, is that the Germans are feigning this retreat and plan on decimating the English forces. The two soldiers are ensured that the German occupied trenches on the other side of No Mans Land are deserted and, reluctantly on Schofield’s part, head on their treacherous journey.
What follows is almost two hours of intense, dramatic cinema. We follow the two soldiers on their descent into hell and chaos as they battle booby-traps, desperate Germans, waterfalls and hails of bullets as they struggle to get their message to the right people in time.
This is truly edge-of-your-seat, handrail-gripping cinema. From the moment our two heroes set out on their ill-fated journey your heart begins to pound in your ear as the actors, the soundtrack and the audience have fallen quiet. Even in the louder action scenes towards the end of the movie you can still hear the THUMP THUMP against your chest. When Blake and Schofield are caught in a bomb blast in the bowels of a German trench you would be forgiven or thinking that this was the end of our soldiers. This is a bleak movie and although it has a somewhat happy ending, you may still feel hollow and drained walking out of the theatre. It is wonderfully shot and the locations for the production were beautiful against the dark setting.
Chapman is best known for his role as Tommen on Game of Thrones. He still has a boyish innocence about him, making his performance that more real as he talks of home and plans for the future despite the hopelessness of his situation.
MacKay is someone who I have known to be in a number of interesting films. I just haven’t seen any of them. After this film, though, I will be looking out for him in any future or past work. He plays the traumatised Schofield incredibly well. Both numbed by war but horrified by death, Schofield’s blank stare and unbreakable will keep you invested in this story and as I said before, on the edge of your seat.
Te screen time is taken up mainly by the two young stars but the film boasts a star-studded supporting cast. Colin Firth plays the general who thrusts the mission on the two corporals. Mark Strong cameos as a general who assists Schofield after a tragic encounter with a fallen German pilot. Benedict Cumberbatch features as the trigger-happy general in charge of the doomed attack, incensed with rage at Schofield’s message of withdrawal. Richard Madden, another Thrones alum plays Blake’s older brother.
What I loved about this stellar supporting cast was that they didn’t take away from the story. None of these veteran actors/soldiers joined our protagonists on their journey. The limelight was solely on Chapman and MacKay. If Mark Strong joined MacKay on his almost fatal journey through a German-occupied French city we wouldn’t be as invested in the story. We genuinely feel that the young soldier will not make it through as he is on his own. The stars only add to the performance; They don’t take away from it.
Sam Mendes is a terrific storyteller. He has directed two of Daniel Craig’s Bond performances and also directed one of my favourite films, Revolutionary Road. He is not restricted by period or genre with each film as dramatic and suspenseful as the last. This film is up for ten different categories at theAcademy Awards and has already won Best Director at the Golden Globes. Its presentation as one-shot has a lot to do with this as you are on the same time path and journey as Blake and Schofield. In particular, the scene where Schofield runs across the front line of battle through soldiers, bullets and debris. It is a sight to behold and one of the many reasons that you should go and watch this film.