A raw and gritty look into WWI, 1917 captures the startling and harrowing nature of trench warfare, and does so with an incredible artistic vision at the hands of writer/director Sam Mendes. The story follows two British privates tasked with an impossible mission; to deliver a message deep in enemy territory that would prevent over 1600 men from walking straight into a deadly trap.
Each and every year, more and more war films are released and the majority seem to capture the same essence of the last one, making the genre gradually slip into something consistently familiar. However, when they’re given a distinct artistic vision and opt to tell an original story in a way that hasn’t necessarily been done before, they stand out and become instant classics… much like this film. Sam Mendes went into the project with the goal of filming the entire thing to appear as though you are following the lead messengers from beginning to end in one long take, and he executes that to perfection here.
Through thrilling filmmaking and storytelling, Sam Mendes makes a two hour movie, where you follow two actors for the entire duration in one continuous shot, endlessly captivating from beginning to end. As the two privates carefully make their way through enemy territory, coming up on potential danger after danger, the tension has you holding your breath the entire time. It moves at a slow pace, to put it simply, it moves at walking pace, but the potential for the enemy to be lurking around literally every corner has you so enthralled and the tension so high that the slow pacing isn’t noticeable.It really is breathtaking from that filmmaking and storytelling perspective, but also in terms of the impeccable score, sound design and cinematography.
Sam Mendes managed to secure the greatest cinematographer right now, Roger Deakins, to turn this film into a true visual spectacle. Every single shot is framed in a way that is strikingly beautiful and tells the most information without the need for dialogue. Every scene is stunning to look at and paints a picture of WWI that is painstakingly real, adding to the overall harrowing atmosphere that is present across the entire film.
The film is led by incredible performances from George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman. Being the only two actors who have more than a couple minutes of screen time, it’s their performances that carry the entire film on their shoulders. Thankfully, both of them are incredible across every single scene and share a level of chemistry that makes following them on this potential suicide mission all the more entertaining. They both display each and every emotion through captivating performances that tug on the heart strings in moments of terror or sadness and have you taking every step on this journey with them. Even in the many sequences where dialogue is minimal, if not nonexistent, their performances completely suck you in to the harrowing nature of war.
The only gripe I have with the film, is that there is one particular moment in the story where it cuts to black before continuing into the third act. The events immediately following this cut aren’t as tense and gripping as what came before it. The cut is jarring in the fact that the entire film up to this point flows smoothly and then this presents the first time the film stops. I believe it is an intentionally jarring moment and one that is needed to really further the story, but it did momentarily cut down the pace and then need to spend a couple minutes picking it back up for the big finale. It’s a minor moment that needed to happen but doesn’t play well in the grand scheme of things.
In the end, 1917 is a remarkable war thriller that takes what could be a “one shot” gimmick and displays the gritty realism of WWI through phenomenal filmmaking, breathtaking cinematography and gripping performances. It’s a spectacle that puts you in the shoes of these soldiers and makes you feel like you’re on this mission right alongside them. If the war genre is your thing, then this is a must watch as it’s a relatively fresh look at one of the many stories to come out of WWI.