1917 Movie Review
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Mays, Adrian Scarborough, Jamie Parker, Pip Carter, Michael Jibson, Richard McCabe, Justin Edwards, Nabhaan Rizwan, Billy Postlethwaite, Anson Boon, Tommy French, Kenny Fullwood, Elliot Edusah
Oscar Wins: Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects
Other Nominations: Best Director, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Original Score, Best Production Design, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Screenplay, Best Picture
Move over, Saving Private Ryan, there’s a new general in town.
April 6, 1917. It’s the height of World War I. The United States formally declared war against Germany and entered the conflict in Europe. The entire world is in chaos. And in the fields of Northern France, Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are about to embark on a seemingly impossible mission set forth by their captain.
Hearing that the Germans have made a “strategic withdrawal” and are now on the run, the British aerial intelligence comes to learn that they are in fact lying in wait, armed and ready to destroy the planned British attack. In a race against time, Blake and Schofield must cross enemy territory and deliver a message to the Devonshire Regiment, telling them to call off their attack against the Germans, which might cost the lives of 1,600 men – Blake’s brother among them. What results is a brutal, immersive dramatic thriller that takes the viewers into the trenches and on the corpse-filled battlefields of the ruined French countryside.
Directed by Sam Mendes, 1917 is nothing short of a cinematic achievement (you’re gonna want to see this in the theater). Shot to look like one continuous take, this film is a tense, unnerving ride that highlights the first-person experience of war better than any movie I’ve ever seen. It almost feels like a video game, with the camera often following close behind the pair as they work their way through the fields of the dead.
The fact that there are no obvious cuts in this film adds to the terror. The feeling of suspense never subsides. There are no cutaways. The fear of something going wrong is so real and so organic…and it lurks around every corner. This movie is very much about the experience of war – the brutality, the unfairness and the uncertainty.
Yet for all the loud explosions and gun blasts, it’s the quiet moments of 1917 that really pack a punch. Looking at a photo of a family back home, seeing a dead dog on the side of the road, watching a friend die. It’s in these moments that we really see, and are confronted with, the humanity behind the lines.
In terms of acting, both Chapman and MacKay are wonderfully cast in this film and really carry it on their own. They’re given little to no exposition, but it doesn’t really matter. Their motivation is not internal, they’re doing a job. Any background we need is revealed through their dialogue, which felt so real and honest to me. I mean, how well do we really know anyone? So much of what we know about our friends, our co-workers, our fellow soldiers, is probably just what comes up in conversation. In any other movie, this would have been a detriment…but here, I think it works perfectly.
1917 ended up taking home the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama and Best Director for Mendes. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography. It was one of AFI’s Top Ten Films of the Year and has appeared on many critics’ year-end Top 10 lists.
All in all, I think 1917 did for World War I what Saving Private Ryan did for World War II and Platoon did for Vietnam. It showed us, on a very real and intimate level, the true cost of war.