Strap in for an adrenaline rush from start to finish. 1917 takes you on a war journey in a way never seen before in cinema. It’s an epic tale of bravery, determination, and friendship, that pushes the limits for two World War 1 soldiers.
Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier’s brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.
How far would you go to save the lives of thousands of your fellow comrades? What if one of those men happened to be your older brother? Would you travel through essentially the depths of hell, during World War 1 to do so? For Corporal Blake (Dean-Thomas Chapman) and his best friend Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) that’s exactly what they plan to do. After getting word that 1600 men are about to walk into a trap set by the Germans, they are sent on a mission to warn these soldiers before it is too late. Chaos is probably the best word to describe war, and in 1917, that’s exactly what you get. Director Sam Mendes, fresh off Skyfall, is attempting something never done before, a one-take war film. That’s the draw, and for a movie that’s so full of chaos and intense set-pieces, it honestly is one of the most remarkable accomplishments I’ve ever witnessed in a movie.
In a time where everything seems to be shot on a green-screen, or nothing ever really seems “real” anymore in cinema, well 1917 will simply blow you away. Shot by the legendary Roger Deakins, one of the greatest cinematographers this world as ever seen, and his entire repertoire is on display here. From the very opening shot of the film, you just know that this is a different breed of movie-making. Seeing this tale play out in almost real-time, as we watch our two soldiers cut across No Man’s Land, escape an aircraft that is crashlanding and fight their way through enemy territory, all without a single cut, no edits in time, nothing.
As our two men journey out into the abyss, it is quite clear that they know there might be no coming back, but in order to save the lives of so many men, they know it’s a worthy sacrifice. Blake, the boy-scout of the two, naive at times, all while being able to crack a joke, even moments after a harrowing near-death escape. Alongside him, the veteran, the beaten-down Schofield, who would rather be out on the battlefield then back home, where things no longer make sense for him anymore. They play off each other so well, they have terrific chemistry and it’s an unlikely bond that drives the movie forward from the very beginning. This is their movie, they are the focal point, it’s their adventure we see unfold, while certain characters pop up briefly, some nice cameos from Benedict Cumberbach, Richard Madden and Colin Firth, they are all on screen a combined 5 minutes. They are just there to elevate important scenes, that need those certain faces to help you realize what’s at stake.
The whole movie builds to its the inevitable outcome, will they arrive in time to prevent a massacre? The final battle sequence is probably one of the most beautiful things shot on film this century. The use of bodies, literally the number of extras, the color scheme and all the madness occurring is breathtaking to watch. It’s like ballet, it’s so eloquent like there’s so much going on, but it’s shot so well, and so perfectly, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. You’re looking around the screen trying to find some flaw, but none are there.
You feel every bullet, every footstep, every mistake these men are making, because you are right beside them, every step of the way. How Mendes and Deakins managed to pull this off, I will never know. It makes you believe in cinema again, that truly great pieces of art can be made still. It’s just something you need to go experience because there’s a lot to say, but I wouldn’t want to spoil any of the jaw-dropping moments. I will say, they probably have the best use of flare guns, in a movie that I have ever seen. How they capture the lightning with everything going on around it. The worst part about it, the projector crapped out with 30 minutes left and it just threw me for a loop, this is a rewatch on the big screen no doubt. One of the best pictures of the year. Don’t be shocked if this wins a ton of Oscars.
1917 = 88/10