Christopher Nolan has certainly broken ground in popular cinema, introducing explicit, complex themes of consciousness and temporal physics into blockbusters that regularly bring in a hefty sum for his home studio, Warner Brothers.
However, did anyone really expect Dunkirk to have such a specific, noticeable impact on future war movies – or, at least, the marketing of future war movies. But watch the trailer for Sam Mendes’ 1917, set during the First World War, and tell me it doesn’t remind you of Nolan’s film.
The focus on the young soldiers; the massive cast of British, high-pedigree actors; the ticking clock. It all feels scalped from Dunkirk, conspicuous considering that the film’s upcoming release date puts its development period around the exact time that Nolan’s film was released.
I suspect it’s being somewhat mis-sold. It has a premise that is at odds with the rest of the war film genre, situating itself more in the realm of a thriller.
Two young soldiers – Schofield and Blake – must deliver a letter warning of an ambush in Ypres to the battalion in danger of being attacked, which includes Blake’s own brother. A race against time a la Dunkirk, perhaps, but it also feels altogether more conventional than Nolan’s time-bending experiment.
But this has all the makings of something more heightened, at least technically, than the swathes of other such movies that come and go each year.
It has Sam Mendes as director, for instance, in his first big-screen assignment since he left the Bond franchise.
Mendes is a veteran of the London theatre scene, which often reflects in his crisp dramas about such hefty subjects as sexual repression in Iraq, sexual repression in contemporary suburbia, and sexual repression in 50s married life.
In some sense, Skyfall was a better fit for Mendes; his directing style actually fit James Bond’s chiselled outlook and clipped cynicism. It was even funny in places!
There’s every possibility, however, that Mendes’ move back to original filmmaking might be another new leaf being turned for the director. Though he’s retained longtime collaborators such as cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Thomas Newman from his Bond films, this is his first as a writer. That puts 1917 into completely unknown territory for him.
The premise itself might give way to some purer craft – there seems little place here to settle into capital-T themes, which is as it should be. There’s more than enough in the central idea to make this an exercise in thrill.
More information on 1917 can be found here.
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