(2019) 119 mins
Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), brothers in arms, are called upon for a treacherous mission: the Germans have laid a trap and, unless the pair can deliver a warning in time, 1600 men (including Blake’s brother) will walk into their own annihilation.
At first, we follow the men through the trenches and into No Man’s Land, where Mendes sets out a diorama of casual horror. Dead horses become landmarks used to navigate the terrain, while every mound has a gaunt limb or a set of caved-in features peeking out through the dirt. Schofield, at one point, stumbles. His hand ends up plunging into the cavity of a fellow soldier’s corpse. The incident is brushed off with a joke – trauma has simply become part of the daily cycle, etched onto the sunken stares of Blake and Schofield.
They then reach a bombed-out French town which looks like the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. Here, Thomas Newman’s score picks up and becomes a major driving force, its hurried beats matched to the frenzied footfall of a man running from death. Along the way, the men cross paths with a pick-and-mix variety of British thespians, including Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. Andrew Scott is particularly effective as a lieutenant so broken down that he’s become a kind of nihilistic poet. “We fought and died over every inch of this place,” he stresses.
The Guardian: "Sam Mendes turns western front horror into a single-shot masterpiece." (5 stars)
The Telegraph: "Sam Mendes’s awards front-runner is technically brilliant but emotionally inert." (3 stars)
The Times: "There are reportedly only 20 lines of dialogue in the last 45 minutes of the movie. The rest is simply cinema at its most propulsive. The war film to end all war films? Not quite. But close." (5 stars)