Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes makes an exhilarating return to the war genre in Universal Pictures, 1917. Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay) and his battle buddy Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are two young British soldiers stationed in France during the First World War. The duo is given the assignment by one of their commanding officers, General Erinmore (Colin Firth), to hand a deliver a message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch).
The message is an order to call off a planned attack on German forces. General Erinmore has Intel that the Germans have a laid a trap. Knowing that the attack would result in mass casualties, Erinmore knows that time of the essence. Among the men who could lose their life is Corporal Blake’s brother. As Schofield and Blake set out to stop the massacre, both men’s lives change from the experience.
I must first point out, that 1917 needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible. I viewed the film in the Dolby format at my local cinema, and the experience was glorious. Director Sam Mendes once again works with his frequent cinematographer Roger Deakin to create a harrowing and downright scary take on war. The duo of Mendes and Deakins give the audience the experience of the film as one continuous shot that happens in real-time.
One of the strengths of real-time is the events on-screen take place at the same rate at which the characters experience them. Granted, the “real-time” and one-shot campaign for 1917 is all part of the marketing by the studio. As a film buff, I can tell you that some of the shots do last about anywhere from eight to ten minutes. Also while 1917 takes place over a ten as opposed to the almost two-hour running time of the film.
In terms of the casting I respect director Mendes’s choice to use two unknowns for the lead role. While Mende’s first war film Jarhead, personally still holds up for me fifteen years later, I can’t help but wonder if the film would’ve been stronger without Jake Gyllenhaal in the lead. I found myself able to identify with both Lance Corporal William Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman). One particular sequence which takes place in a mine finds the duo having to use teamwork to escape reminded me of mock war games from my Air Force days.
Credit must also go to composer Thomas Newman, who is director Mendes go-to for film scores. Newman avoids using gloomy music and instead focus on tension. As the film becomes tenser, so does the score.
I generally found much to enjoy with 1917; there were a few minor issues. Sam Mendes uses the stories his grandfather told as the plot point for 1917. Mendes and first time feature writer Krysty Wison-Caims script fall’s into the trap that most war films do, which is bypassing military accuracy for the sake of the narrative. While I am a film buff, I’m also a veteran, and I find a few holes in the plot, which I won’t mention here. In spite of the military accuracy issue, I understand that 1917 is Mende’s vision as a director and, in the end, paints the picture the battle stops for no man, and man has no time to stop in war.
1917 is not achievement from a technical standpoint, but it’s sure to clean up this awards season. With great performances from its leads and breathtaking cinematography, I highly recommend making the trip to the theater to see it. Sun Tzu once said “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Walking out of 1917, I came to the realization that quite possibly while Mendes wanted to show the horrors of wars, quite possibly, he wants to show us how to avoid war.
Final Grade A-