1917 Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
One of the most visually impressive war movies ever filmed! It feels as if accompanying these two soldiers through the mud & dirt of World War I.
Genre: Action / Drama / War
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Andrew Scott, Mark Strong, Robert Maaser, Richard Madden, Colin Firth & Benedict Cumberbatch.
Run Time: 119 min.
US Release: 10 January 2020
UK Release: 10 January 2020
German Release: 16 January 2020
What a fantastic way to start the year! This has been on my list of the most anticipated films of this year. Two weeks into it and I already have a contender for one of my favourites of 2020. Sam Mendes delivered a powerhouse of a war flick, containing a constant build-up of tension. Once the credits started rolling, I was perspiring out of every pore. Even better, it is finally a picture that does not take place during the Second World War, but it depicts a fictional account during World War I. This is an absolute cinematic experience!
On April 6th, 1917, an infantry battalion assembles to wage war deep in enemy territory. Two soldiers are assigned to race against time and deliver a message that will stop 1,600 men from walking straight into a deadly ambush.
The screenplay was developed by the director, together with Scottish screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The idea for the plot was delivered to Mendes by his grandfather, who was a messenger for the British on the Western Front, telling him stories of his experience made during the First World War. The final product ended up being a surprisingly realistic portrayal of that historic period, hooking the viewers from beginning to end.
Most surprising is the energy that was infused into the script, as World War I is known for being one of the most terrifying and bloody wars in modern history. The Western Front was basically at stasis, making slow progress on both sides, plus losing numerous soldiers daily. Thus giving the story the needed momentum from the beginning onward, which just keeps building along the way, was the right call. It also suits the story of two messengers, who need to bring an important piece of intel from point A to point B.
Then there is the emotional component, which is fantastically well rendered, thanks to the one-shot technique. The narrative begins right in the middle of the conflict, following the two leads, never turning away from them. This gives the audience a feeling as if obtaining a short window into the lives of these soldiers, as they experience what the war was like first-hand. The necessary information about their mission is given in the first two minutes, as well as an incentive to follow through with it, as the life of Lance Corporal Blake’s brother is at stake. Viewers are invested immediately on an emotional level.
The dialogues are incredibly well written. The little chats between Blake and his comrade Schofield sound authentic, giving a little bit of release to the wound-up tension, as they tell each other small anecdotes from back home.
George MacKay, cast as Lance Corporal William Schofield, gives an amazing performance! The pain and tiredness he expresses facially, look real. He delved absolutely into the character, selling every moment. Schofield himself is a little more experiences than his comrade Blake, not so eager to take on the mission given by them to the General, as he knows it means certain death. However, compelled to keep his friend alive, he joins him.
Dean-Charles Chapman plays Lance Corporal Thomas Blake, a fresh recruit, still wet behind his ears, who is given an important mission. He needs to bring a piece of intel to the Second Battalion, where his brother is serving, otherwise, they will fall into a German ambush. Chapman, just like MacKay sells his scenes, giving a magnificent portrayal of his character.
Roger Deakins was hired as director of photography, reuniting him with Mendes for the fourth time. He added a bleak, greyish colour grade to the overall picture, which suits well to the atmosphere of war. The huge technical achievement to make this look like one continuous shot is astounding to look at, giving the account the visual energy to keep the plot moving forward. That said, the description of it being a one-shot is maybe misleading, as there is a fade into black when one of the protagonists loses consciousness. Then there is the perfect use of light and shadow, during a night sequence that left me speechless.
The production design, just like the costume design and sets are on point, looking period accurate. The effects are mostly practical; dead bodies look disturbingly realistic. Yes, there is at times CG used, specifically to hide a cut, though it never takes one out of the experience. In combination with the fantastic camera work, it makes for an incredible visual experience!
Thomas Newman’s composition is a powerful chilling soundtrack. It adds to the suspense, as well as to the feeling of threat. Hauntingly beautiful orchestral music that sends chills down one's spine.
Verdict: 1917 is one of the most effective war movies ever produced. Thanks to the brilliant camera work, in combination with some amazing computer trickery, this brutally bloody period of the early 20th century looks as realistic as never seen before. The script, written by Mendes himself and Wilson-Cairns, is filled with an energy that contrasts the trench warfare itself. The emotional hook is equally successful, as the stakes for one of the characters are established right at the beginning, which also gives more gravitas to a surprising twist along the 45-minute mark. Both actors Chapman, as well as MacKay, give stellar performances as the two British messengers. Finally, the music by Thomas Newman gives the whole feature an eerie tone. 1917 is already one of my favourites this year, deserving a 9.5 out of 10.