With its amazing one-shot technique, 1917 feels less like a historical piece but an immersive, often unrelenting experience that basically creates a new subset of war thrillers.
What it lacks as far as a gripping narrative it more than makes up for with its sense of constant peril, uneasiness and massive scale. Just from the scope 1917 is arguably 2019’s most ambitious film and one of its best.
There’s an iconic movie for every war at this point so to stand out from the crowd, Director/co-writer Sam Mendes (Skyfall) opted to shoot 1917 as one long extended take. It’s hard to take the film in and not be impressed with Mendes’ accomplishment.
Some war films will stage a scene or two with that right in the front line perspective but to do it over the course of two hours? That’s crazy and it’s even more stunning watching him pull it off to such a high level. Watching a rat scurry around has never been so intense and edge of your seat nerve-rattling.
Mendes gives so many elements of 1917 a feeling like experiencing the perils of war for the first time. It’s small things like finding a bucket of milk or a secret hideaway in a war zone that are given just as much significance as dodging gunfire or crashing planes.
British soldiers Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are assigned an important mission — alert a detachment that they’re heading into a trap that could obliterate the unit. For Blake the mission is personal as his brother (Richard Madden, Game of Thrones) is also part of the potentially doomed unit.
With no backup and only the meager supplies they can carry Blake and Schofield set out on a mission that Ethan Hunt might even say is impossible crossing enemy lines to deliver the message.
MacKay and Chapman are just fine in their roles showcasing enough distinctions between the two soldiers to help them stand out in a film that oftentimes feels more about the spectacle than the people.
Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairnes don’t go too deep into the personal lives of Blake and Schofield keeping them at an almost odd distance given the intimate nature of the film. They wisely know when to ease up on the dialogue and let the moments speak for themselves.
And if nothing else, 1917 is filled with incredible moments like the instant classic shot of Schofield running through the frontlines of a battlefield or Blake leading him through a collapsing bunker.
Mendes teams with the always brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049), who creates more spectacular imagery for an already legendary highlight reel. The nighttime chase through a bombed town is amazing. Deakins always has a great sense of scope and how to make the actors prominent while in a large, vast world.
Thomas Newman’s (Bridge of Spies) score is booming and bold without overwhelming the moments.
Along the way there’s some strong cameos from actors who should be court ordered to appear in any British war film — Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch. Not surprisingly they’re great even with short screen time.
1917 rightfully earns its place as one of the all-time greatest war films and its gripping presentation ensure it won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures