1917 finds Britain at war with Germany. British soldier Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman) and his buddy Schofield (George MacKay) are tasked by the General (Colin Firth) with delivering a message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) of the 2nd Division.
Blake’s older brother is in the 2nd Division and if they don’t reach them in time, 1,600 men will be sent into a trap and certain death.
Blake and Schofield must cross enemy territory, traveling miles to reach their destination. However, that nine miles will become a tense, bloody battle of nerves, sheer will and courage.
“1917” is a film about more than just two men’s journey to deliver an important message. It is a story about will and resilience, about overcoming numbing fear. It is a harrowing depiction of sacrifice, duty and camaraderie.
Director Sam Mendes (“Revolutionary Road,” “Road To Perdition”) based this film on real stories told by veterans of WWI and his family members. This story has personal importance to Mendes and it shows in the care he gives it. He doesn’t hide the grit and filth, the gore and death. He uses fear as a truth and despair as a mask to dress his characters.
Blake’s and Schofield’s mission is seemingly simple, reach Colonel Mackenzie and stop the attack or the 2nd will see massive casualties, but within this simple task springs an ordeal that perfectly defines the horrors of war and the life-long connections that soldiers have with one another.
Mendes and fellow writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns create a human story within one of the bloodiest wars in history. Blake and Schofield are real men, carrying doubt and anger, frustration and bitterness alongside their heavy physical burdens. They make good and bad decisions throughout their journey and we never question their feelings for they are the same emotions we are experiencing.
Scenes in this war drama run for long, uninterrupted periods, driving viewers deeper into the story, deeper into the emotional maelstrom of fear and deeper into danger. Tension is weaved within any war picture, but “1917” uses it to both drive the story and it is a constant companion for these two soldiers whose psyches weigh down their bodies and hearts.
Cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Skyfall”) offers a master class on his craft. The color and contrast, the lines and beauty of each scene are unforgettable. From the deep grottos of muddy, stinking trenches through a bombed out village lit by flares and fire, to the open prairies of Europe and the hope of peace and healing, Deakins brings his masterful eye to every scene.
What also folds so well into this narrative is the simplicity of the time. The universal experience of war is driven home as soldiers carry the responsibility of dedication to their comrades and country, their mental and physical struggles and their suffering. That common suffering binds these men with viewers for we still understand the duty and sacrifice of war and that we should always strive to avoid it.
The cast is strong and skilled up and down the line, but Charles-Chapman and MacKay carry this film with sad, loveable characters. These are young men with a future unfolding before them, however they cannot see anything beyond the next trench. Schofield begins as one uninterested in soldiering, but is transformed into one when he witnesses the sacrifices given by others as he endures his own journey of survival.
The special effects do not overwhelm the film, they only enhance an already strong film. The score skillfully meshes its rise and fall with the emotional story.
Focusing on two soldiers gives “1917” its personal touch, its heart and soul – delivering a memorable, respectful and haunting take on the horrors and heroism of war.
Beautifully shot and masterfully told, “1917” is a stunning film depicting the horrors of war from a unique perspective. achieved on an epic scale but telling a moving, intimate story.
Writer-director Sam Mendes, along with co-screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns, has created an epic scale action film that tells a moving, intimate story. Mendes conceived this script based on tales his grandfather told. Alfred H. Mendes was a runner for the British Army during “the war to end all wars.”
The advancement of technical wizardry used to make the film appear as if it is shot in two takes is a remarkable achievement. Cinematographer Roger Deakins, already lauded as one of the greatest of all-time, surpasses his previous efforts with this accomplishment. He’s being remembered this awards season. And Lee Smith’s outstanding editing work should also be singled out.
Mendes followed the journey of two young soldiers, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Scofield (George MacKay), who must move across the dangerous “No Man’s Land” to get an urgent directive to the general before soldiers are ambushed. The two young actors superbly capture the emotions of such peril and what the war experience has meant to them.
George MacKay, impressive as the eldest son in “Captain Fantastic,” looks like the poster boy for WWI doughboys, and his stoicism masks his strong sense of duty and a kind heart.
Dean-Charles Chapman, whose credits include “Game of Thrones” and last year’s “Blinded By the Light” is the livelier of the pair, telling ribald and graphic stories from the trenches to pass the time.
The pair’s determination and tenacity is admirable. The focus on the duo deepens the hellish conditions and emotional response while Mendes’ masterful strokes make this a standout film one must watch on the big screen for best effects.
The supporting cast is a who’s who of acclaimed British talent, with brief appearances by Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch as military brass and excellent work from Mark Strong, Andrew Scott and Richard Madden as officers.
The sense of urgency keeps the action moving as they are faced with one obstacle after another, and Thomas Newman’s grand music score captures that tension. It’s a thoroughly engrossing tale that provides more understanding of what the troops went through during World War I. (A great companion piece is the documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old.”)
Not much was known about this film before it was shown to the press, and accolades have increased as more people discover this heartfelt and massive film that indeed deserves to be a contender this awards season. It is definitely a game changer, one of the year’s best.