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Film reviews: 1917/Seberg/Uncut Gems

Horrors of war: George MacKay as Schofield faces a hellish mission in 1917

THE BIG RELEASE

1917

(15) ★★★★★

YOU rarely roll out of a cinema dead certain you’ve seen something special but 1917 is like experiencing The Revenant, Saving Private Ryan and Dunkirk all rolled into one. On Sunday it won two Golden Globes, for best picture and best director.

It’s northern France, April 6, 1917 — the thick of World War I. Two young British soldiers, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are charged with a mission impossible by Colin Firth (oddly starting to resemble John Cleese). With the hours ticking down, the duo must somehow pick their way across the blood-soaked hell of No Man’s Land to deliver a message that could prevent the slaughter of around 1,600 Allied men — Blake’s brother included.

The major sell of 1917 is that it seems to be shot in a single astonishing take. In fact, it’s a series of very long ones — either way, it stands as a breathtaking technical feat that will surely win veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049) his second Oscar. And if 1917 doesn’t equal ‘one-take’ films like Birdman and Son Of Saul for originality, it still stands as a remarkable and powerfully immersive journey.

The sustained tension keeps you emotionally locked in, allowing no respite from the horrors of war — brace yourself for grisly corpses, flyblown horses and lots of rats. Director Sam Mendes deploys all his James Bond training to the max, with spectacular set pieces, plane crashes and escapes under sniper fire, but you can tell this is a personal project, even before the dedication to his grandfather, who told the young Sam tales of World War I.

Less stylised than Dunkirk, if just as unmissable, scale-wise there’s something of The Lord Of The Rings about watching two little guys pick their way across a vast, peril-filled landscape on a high-stakes quest. A quest that asks, without trumpeting, what makes a hero? And what is this chaos called war?

Masterfully choreographed by Mendes, the action is counterbalanced with intimate moments and random encounters, including unexpected cameos by Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch and Richard Madden. There have been many films about ‘the war to end all wars’ but 1917 is one of the best. Larushka Ivan-Zadeh

The Verdict

Breathless war spectacular. A one-take masterwork

Seberg

(15) ★★✩✩✩

FEW today may remember Jean Seberg, the all-American gal from Nowheresville, Iowa, who was catapulted to stardom after director Otto Preminger almost burnt her alive shooting his Saint Joan in 1957. After that, Seberg (played here by a compelling Kristen Stewart, right) and her gamine hairdo became icons of the French New Wave thanks to Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless.

But when Seberg returned to Hollywood in the 1960s she found America a changed place. Her public support of the civil rights movement, funding the Black Panthers and secretly sleeping with Malcolm X disciple Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) led to a terrifying persecution by the FBI.

Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Rachel Morrison (Black Panther), this could have been a timely tale about toxic fame, celebrity activism, and contemporary racial and gender intersectionality, as well as an illuminating character portrait. However, Stewart’s magnetism can’t compensate for the script’s sketchiness. Seberg’s story deserves to be told — what a tragedy that this biopic’s finest feature is its frocks.

Uncut Gems

(15) ★★✩✩✩

ADAM SANDLER’S latest mediocre (to be polite) comedy, Murder Mystery, may have inexplicably trounced Stranger Things and The Irishman to become Netflix’s most popular release of 2019 but it’s his too-rare ‘serious’ movies that critics go mad for. His jittery turn here in Uncut Gems is being dubbed his career best — but it doesn’t compare to his legendary turn in Jack And Jill. He’s Howard Ratner, a shady New York jeweller and compulsive gambler who plays such dangerous games with the loan sharks he’s about to end up feeding the fish unless he can retrieve an uncut gem and make a big score.

If ‘reduce my anxiety levels’ was one of your new year’s resolutions, you’d best avoid this latest exercise from directors Josh and Benny Safdie (Good Time). Motor-mouthed along by Sandler’s edgy star turn, it’s unrewardingly tense. And be warned: it’s 135 minutes long.