It's always nice when an incredible director like Sam Mendes (American Beauty) takes a break from franchises to deliver something original. Now, after spending the better part of this decade in the world of James Bond, Mendes is back in a big way with the World War I epic and awards hopeful, 1917.
Check out the trailer and let's discuss after the jump!
The plot of the story seems clear, it's basically Sam Mendes' Saving Private Ryan by way of All Quiet on the Western Front. A young soldier named Tommy is told "Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow’s attack...If you don’t, we will lose 1,600 men — your brother among them.”
The scope and scale here seems to be more of an intimate war epic, with the drama and impeccable production design unfolding at human height. The most exciting thing about the movie is seeing Mendes working again outside of the franchise atmosphere, trying to tell an original story. Here he shares co-writing credit with Krysty Wilson-Cairns, a veteran of the TV world.
Mendes hasn't had official writing credit since...ever!
He's a director known for excellent storytelling techniques and wonderful visuals, so it is a bit surprising that he's never dabbled (officially) in the screenwriting arena. Still, having his voice on the page here is definitely an interesting way back into the spotlight. Since he also served as a producer on the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, the show that Wilson-Cairns wrote for and Mendes' Skyfall scribe John Logan created, it will be interesting to see how their chemistry plays from page to screen.
Luckily, Mendes' word will have a ton of visual support.
The other brilliant part of this trailer is the ethereal cinematography of Roger Deakins. The camera sweeps over gritty landscapes, we get compelling POV shots, silhouettes, and lots of other Deakins trademarks. We know he and Mendes have a great relationship from their work on the Bond movies, so I am excited to see what he gets to do in a period film of this caliber.
Writer-directors are a potent combo; the creative authorship verges on the edge of auteur and allows the filmmaker to oversee a lot of spinning plates to execute their vision. Despite the misfire that was Spectre in 2015, Mendes is a compelling storyteller and filmmaker. He delivers standout performances from every member of his various casts, he's an "actor's director" who often puts story and character first. 1917 seems to be the latest evolution for him as a filmmaker and those in his space or aspiring to enter it can take note from his approach to the material here.
The movie has a Christmas Day 2019 release in select theaters, so that means Universal must be pretty confident in the end product. A nationwide expansion is planned for January 10, 2020.
Consider me eager in my anticipation for what is to come.
Here's the official synopsis from Universal:
At the height of the First World War, two young British soldiers, Schofield (Captain Fantastic’s George MacKay) and Blake (Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman) are given a seemingly impossible mission. In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers—Blake’s own brother among them. 1917 is directed by Sam Mendes, who wrote the screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Showtime’s Penny Dreadful). The film is produced by Mendes and Pippa Harris (co-executive producer, Revolutionary Road; executive producer, Away We Go) for their Neal Street Productions, Jayne-Ann Tenggren (co-producer, The Rhythm Section; associate producer, Spectre), Callum McDougall (executive producer, Mary Poppins Returns, Skyfall) and Brian Oliver (executive producer, Rocketman; Black Swan). The film is produced by Neal Street Productions for DreamWorks Pictures in association with New Republic Pictures. Universal Pictures will release the film domestically in limited release on December 25, 2019 and wide on January 10, 2020. Universal and Amblin Partners will distribute the film internationally, with eOne distributing on behalf of Amblin in the U.K.
Key art from the movie
From a filmmaking perspective, what do you think are the benefits and potential challenges of being a writer-director on a project of this scale? If you could do the same on any movie for the big screen, what story would you want to tell? Let us know in the comments!