I’m not big on epic war dramas. They all tend to share the same brutal message: War is hell. But 1917 is surprisingly engaging, and best seen on the biggest screen possible. It’s an immersive, visceral film that relies on a gimmick of sorts to set it apart from classic war movies like Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, Dunkirk, etc. The film is designed to give the impression that it’s all shot in one continuous take. Gimmick or not, it works. 1917 follows the perilous journey of two young British soldiers sent across enemy lines at the height of the First World War to deliver a message that could potentially save 1600 men from walking into a deadly trap set by the Germans. It reeks of a suicide mission from the start. But one of the young men, Lance Corporal Blake (Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman) has a very personal stake in getting the message across. His brother is among those heading into an ambush.
Blake volunteers his best friend Schofield (George MacKay, Captain Fantastik) to accompany him on the mission, and off they go. The camera follows closely every step of the way as the war buddies traverse minefields and dead bodies, dodge bullets, and swat at giant rats and flies. The proximity can get intense. And emotions run the gamut as the film takes some unexpected turns. There are moments that will make you flinch. And moments that will touch your heart.
Since the action unfolds primarily though the perspective of Blake and Schofield, supporting characters remain largely on the periphery. But they are portrayed by some big name actors who know how to command the screen – however briefly – including Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch.
1917 is directed by Sam Mendes (Spectre, Skyfall, American Beauty) who wrote the screenplay along with Krysty Wilson Cairns (Showtime’s Penny Dreadful). It’s a fictional narrative, inspired by stories Mendes’s grandfather shared about his experiences in WWI.
The film serves as a fitting tribute to all who served.
Arty Chick weighs in: I wouldn’t call this a war movie as much as a quest film. It certainly echoes other films set in the battlefield where young men have to rescue comrades, but the way it’s shot (beyond the amazing one take wizardry) with so much of the landscape feeling like a wasteland had me thinking of more Lord of the Rings than Saving Private Ryan.