“1917” from director Sam Mendes is coming soon to theaters. This one stars George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman as British soldiers during the First World War that are tasked with hand delivering a message deep inside enemy territory. If they fail, more than a thousand soldiers will be walking into a deadly trap the following morning. This movie is being garnered as one of the year’s best. It’s created to look like one seamless take and the trailers looked amazing. They wasted no time in capturing the continuous shot technique that would be used and it was an impressive feat to accomplish through telling this story.
The film opens on two soldiers sitting under a tree enjoying some downtime and they are given a task. From there the camera doesn’t leave these characters for the duration and it was extremely immersive. You learn things as characters are, you face first-hand the issues and dangers they run into and it was absolutely riveting and emotionally gripping. The seamless style of shooting was incredibly done with vast landscapes blending from one detailed backdrop to another. It captures the scope of the terrain, as well as the carnage of the First World War. There aren’t as many WWI films as there are ones that cover WWII. This movie effectively pulls you into the brutality of war, specifically during this era. It was inhumane, and beyond the word brutal. With human life seeming to have no importance other than to fight this war, and I felt the effects of this were captured through both the characters, and even more so from the visuals.
The production-design was incredible. Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins truly need to be commended for creating a visual style that showed no lack of detail. The color pallet is muted giving the film a time-period feel, and for a project this large-scale to have no signs of studio polish, was awesome. It creates a mood and atmosphere as these two soldiers trek across ravaged battlegrounds littered with bodies in various stages of decay. These constant visual ques behind the characters were able to tell the story of the war on their own, without the need for dialogue.
As the movie progresses my eyes were always scanning the screen. Simply taking it all in, imagining what it would be like in the place of these, or any other solider who fought in this war. I imagined what I would do in the position of these two young men, how I would react to these situations, and it commanded my attention for the run-time. This was a war-based film that took its own path. It’s continually intense and unsettling, but the climactic battles and violent skirmishes are toned down and not the focus. There is a very grounded, matter-of-fact approach taken to the structure of the story and I loved it. Because it delivers the intended emotional impact without ever feeling over-the-top or theatrical.
This enabled me to connect much easier to the dramatic situations because it never felt like that was the filmmaker’s intention, despite that clearly being the case. The musical scoring was a key factor to that. Often in war films the climactic score can reveal the intention of wanting the viewer to feel the weight of a situation. That doesn’t mean it hinders the following scenes, but through the score there is that subconscious guidance that the emotional energy is increasing. Here, the methodical, foreboding score from Thomas Newman built intensity yet never seemed larger than the moment. Which added to the realistic tone perfectly.
As for drawbacks they were minimal and could be classed as issues based on my personal tastes. The performances from MacKay and Chapman were certainly top-notch and with minimal time for character development, you still learned what you needed about them to properly invest. Plus, their physical effort in capturing the seamless flow to the story was spot on to make them feel like common soldiers tasked with a very uncommon mission and the emotional toll that would take on a person. But as a movie nerd who thrives on characters and their narratives, I did find myself wanting to know more. This is where I felt the dialogue didn’t have the urgency that it needed.
There were moments of conversations that I felt could have told us more about these men. And admittedly there are scenes where foundation to who they were was formed, and it was done so very naturally. But there were also moments where meaningless back-and-forth’s took the focus of using these conversations to subtly tell us more about personal motivations, which I would have preferred over them telling old stories to each other. Again, very minor nitpicks on my part. But nothing that hindered this from being an excellent work-of-art.
It’s a beautiful piece of film-making. Mendes and Deakins create a thing of beauty that’s as immersive as I can remember in the genre. MacKay and Chapman carry it with phenomenal performances. And for two-hours it pulls you back into the clutches of WWI to explore how it was fought. It will break your heart in places and capture the determination of the human spirit in others. The visual-appeal is through the roof but never over-the-top and if you like war-based films, this is one not to be missed on the big-screen.
“1917” OFFICIAL TRAILER