Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
Winner of two Golden Globe Awards, including Best Director and Best Motion Picture – Drama, I’ve heard comparisons to Oscar-winners like Saving Private Ryan (1998). Because it was rather recent, Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017) might also come to mind when sitting down to watch this film, because it is just as much a technical marvel. Nolan’s war picture was really only a technical marvel, no real heart or soul. Nolan amazed us with incredible craft but rather forgot the humanity. This film, directed and co-written by Sam Mendes, doesn’t forget the humanity. Mendes doesn’t come close to the kind of humanity and overwhelming craft of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, but this is a really effective thrill ride.
Putting other war pictures aside, the film that jumped into my brain was Alejandro G. Iñarritu’s The Revenant (2015). That film had Leonardo DiCaprio put through the elements, the brutality of nature, as well as the brutality of mankind in what felt like a real-life, physical endurance for not only the character but also the actor. It felt like a grueling action challenge.
George MacKay (Captain Fantastic and Pride) stars as Will Schofield, a soldier in the British army during World War I. He’s a lance corporal and very good at what he does. He’s well-trained, tough and dedicated. He’s chosen for a mission that will certainly be an endurance test for him. He’s also going to be put through the elements, literally like earth, fire, water, etc. Like DiCaprio, MacKay handles it very well and I haven’t been this impressed with MacKay since I first noticed him in For Those in Peril (2014), which still stands as his best performance. Ironically, For Those in Peril has MacKay’s character suffering from the loss of his brother. Here, his character is suffering from trying not to lose a brother.
The reason Iñarritu’s survival and revenge film is relevant to mention isn’t simply due to those narrative parallels. It’s because it was directed by Iñarritu who prior to his 2015 flick directed the Oscar-winning Birdman (2014). The reason I mention Birdman is due to that film’s structure. The structure mimicked that of one, long, continuous take when in reality it was a series of long, continuous takes. Mendes’ film utilizes that same structure where there are little to no noticeable cuts or edits that would denote the camera ever stopping.
It’s meant to feel immersive. It’s meant to make us feel like what we’re watching is more real because it’s seemingly playing out in real-time, right in front of our eyes. It’s a gimmick that’s somewhat effective. Given the advancements in digital technology, it isn’t as wondrous a feat, but Mendes still gets credit for pulling it off with as much awe and wonder as he accomplishes. What he accomplishes is production design and cinematography that are amazing. For example, I mentioned the elements before. One shot that leads to a visual of a huge fire was terrifying yet beautiful to behold.
Rated R for violence, some disturbing images and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 59 mins.
In select cities, nationwide on Jan. 10.