“1917” stars George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch. Released on December 25, 2019, the film has two British soldiers going on an impossible mission during the First World War.
The film is directed by Sam Mendes, who also directed films such as “American Beauty”, “Jarhead”, “Revolutionary Road”, and “Skyfall”. You ever dreamed about being a part of the World War experience without literally being in that time period? Well, with this film, now you can. The new year has already begun, but the awards season is far from over. This weekend sees the release of two 2019 films that were playing in a limited amount of theaters since Christmas Day. Today, I’ll be talking about the one that I’ve been dying to see since its marketing began last year. There was no doubt in my mind that my interest in this latest war film was high for various reasons, like its director, the cinematography, the genre, and its high-stakes concept. The fact that it won two Golden Globe awards last weekend is also another main reason why I wanted to check it out as soon as possible. So far, it has earned plenty of strong reviews from those who already saw it before I did, and it has received many more award nominations from the Critics’ Choice Awards and the British Academy Film Awards, which should count as a good sign for people who wanted to get the taste of the other war film, “Midway”, out of their mouths, especially me. Now that it has made its way to a wider audience, let’s see if the film is really worth a trip back to the gritty event.
Taking place during the First World War in the spring of 1917, the story centers on two British soldiers, William Schofield (MacKay) and Tom Blake (Chapman). They are tasked to hand-deliver a message to the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, which states that the soldiers must call off their planned attack on the Germans. Little do the soldiers know that the Germans hosted a fake retreat to the Hindenburg Line and are prepared to ambush and kill every last one of them, including Blake’s brother (Madden). These two soldiers will have to race against time and face every obstacle known to man in order to deliver the message before it’s too late. The film is supposedly based on one of the stories that Mendes heard from his grandfather, Alfred Mendes, who was involved in that time period. I honestly didn’t realize this until I first started studying this film. It’s actually quite cool to see that a director like Sam Mendes is related to someone who fought in the war a long time ago. This is a war film that doesn’t heavily rely on violence to get your heart pounding. Instead, it relies on the soldiers’ perilous journey from point A to point B to make the audience feel more attached to the urgency and the drama. It’s a pretty straightforward film that can be a bit much for those who couldn’t handle that type of intensity, but it can be quite riveting for people who are into that type of stuff, and that’s exactly what this story needed to be to make the entire experience amazing and consistently heart-pounding. Everything about this film had me immediately hooked since the beginning and it never lets me go until its satisfying conclusion. This is a highly immersive and startling tale of two messengers who are willing to risk their lives to save countless soldiers from the Germans, and it was brilliantly told with precision and majesty. George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman were both great in their roles as Schofield and Blake respectively. They’re basically the main characters that you will spend two hours with, and they’re actually worth giving a crud about. Thanks to the talents of the main leads, I was able to feel what they’re feeling during the slow parts and the intense parts. The biggest selling point of “1917” was that it was made to look like it was shot in one continuous take. Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins relied on long takes and choreographed moving camera shots to capture the exact feeling of being in that time period with the characters. This had to be a massive struggle for Mendes and the crew because of the high risk of doing it all over again if anything went wrong during filming. Lucky for them, it paid off extremely well. Combined with the film’s stellar production design and the sound effects, “1917” is a technical marvel that acts like a time portal. Cinematography-wise, this is the best-looking war film I’ve seen in a while. Despite being in one take, Roger Deakins was able to capture every landscape and every action in stunning detail. I’m going to have to say this right now. This film has to win the Oscar for Best Cinematography. No excuses. The musical score by Thomas Newman was just as captivating as the journey itself. It had the right mixture of suspense and calmness to match the intended emotional core of its concept.
Overall, “1917” is an astounding cinematic experience that represents the harshness of that time period and the soldiers’ treacherous quest with sheer tension and beauty. It’s intense, it’s engaging, and it’s epic in its own right. From its talented cast to its brilliant technical achievements, the film is not only a non-stop edge-of-your-seat ride from start to finish, but it is also a darn good war film. I would’ve put this in my top ten films of 2019 list in a heartbeat if I saw it sooner, but again, stuff happens. I’m glad that I was able to watch this film and I’m hoping to see it again real soon. I would highly recommend this one to those who are into war films and to those who are familiar with Sam Mendes’ other works.