Welcome to the 2019 CIRCUIT CONSIDERATIONS series. Highlighting the very best in film, acting, and technical achievements for the past 12 months that awards voters may need help remembering. Each day a different writer will make their plea for a specific film in a respective category. If you miss one, click the tag “Circuit Considerations 2019,” and if you have some suggestions, include them in the comments below!
Every generation, there comes an actor whose facial expressiveness cuts through the dramatic foliage and epitomizes the burden of conflict. British character actor turned leading man, George MacKay, is that thespian. With one haunted look or subtle inhalation of fear, audiences know trouble is afoot in MacKay’s cinematic orbit. A previous SAG ensemble nominee for his outstanding work in “Captain Fantastic” as the traumatized eldest son of Viggo Mortensen’s fringe-dwelling patriarch, George MacKay is back in the awards race in a colossal way with Sam Mendes’ epic “1917.” The World War I drama is based on the real-life account of Mendes’ grandfather who had to cross enemy lines to warn of an impending German trap set for the British armed forces. MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman play lance corporals reenacting this valiant yet dangerous mission.
George MacKay ensures that his lead is never buried with a performance so effectively vexing that it ranks among the greatest this decade. From the moment he appears in the trenches alongside Chapman – followed intimately by Roger Deakins’ fixated camera – MacKay’s Lance Corporal Schofield trudges along with a visage of resignation. He demonstrates how the strain of one’s militaristic duty weighs heavy on the hearts of soldiers. It comes above all else: love, family, rationality, happiness, and ironically freedom. The toll of removing personal feelings from the battlefield is the incarceration of the soul.
“1917” is ultimately about the reclamation of emotion once duty has been fulfilled. When Schofield’s salvation does come, audiences are able to exhale with jubilation that MacKay can finally breathe life back into his lost humanity. Seeing MacKay continually resist any form of sentiment – a basic civil right he’s sacrificing to fight for – is excruciating torture but among the most upstanding acts a person do when combating oppression. MacKay’s eyes beautifully betray his stoicism, a privilege the audience is granted that carries us along his arduous journey. Through them immense pain, indescribable fear, and palpable camaraderie pierce through.
The immense challenge is keeping such layered work in complete lock-down with only a handful of cuts. MacKay braves this intrepid acting feat with astounding success. Never once does he fall into self-conscious patterns of overselling or underrating the endless wave of action sequences Mendes pummels him with. MacKay steps into his characters’ shoes fully embracing the chains of suffering that come with them. Given the technical difficulty of “1917’s” narrative construction – one that has never been attempted before in this subgenre – only the finest actor could sell the landmark “continuous-shot” achievement. Not only does MacKay immerse audiences into the hell of his life, he shows them the intimate tragedy of a soldier’s total isolation from emotion.
It’s with the utmost plea that George MacKay’s ingenious and truly singular performance be considered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The “Lead Actor” race might already be crowded, but starring in one of the biggest Oscar frontrunners of awards season surely merits a conversation at minimum. If one drowns out the noise of veteran or recognizable-name bias, one can easily remember which actor delivered the biggest emotional wallop of 2019. In a year of phenomenal lead actor work, George MacKay traverses his way to the top. We must now do our part to surrender to his talents.