“1917” takes place during the Great War on the Western Front. British soldiers Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) are giving a treacherous task by General Erinmore (Colin Firth). The German Army have made a tactical withdrawal to lure British Forces into a trap, and the problem is, Colonel MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his battalion are unaware of this and are doomed to be overwhelmed by the enemy unless they are warned. With the field telephone lines cut, however, the only available option is to hand–deliver the message to Colonel MacKenzie personally. With only a backpack of supplies and a weapon at their side, Blake and Schofield will have to cross the Western Front on their own and reach MacKenzie’s forces. If they fail, then a battalion of over 1,600 British soldiers will be wiped out, including Blake’s brother. The film also features Andrew Scott and Mark Strong. The film was also written and directed by Sam Mendes, the same man who directed “American Beauty” and “Skyfall.”
There’s no such thing as an un-disturbing war, any sane human being should know this. Every war film, fiction or non-fiction, changes depending on what setting or story it’s focusing on. It could be a depressing story, an action-packed one, sometimes even a controversial one. It all depends on what kind of story is begin told and during which war. In my eye, World War I feels like a tragic horror tale—Mustard Gas, No Man’s Land, Barbed Wire, Trenches, the nightmarish list goes on. For better or worse, however, “1917” captures that horror-feel as we watch our characters travel from barbed wire battlefields littered with bodies and craters, deserted trenches rigged with traps, to abandoned farmlands and destroyed villages.
The film can best be summarized as an epic journey/horror story through a warzone. While there are moments where our protagonists have confrontations with the Germans, the bulk of the story is about them surviving the various hazards they face along the way and getting to the destination on time.
The actors and set designers should all be commended for their work. They clearly did their research and worked hard at recreating the look and feel of World War I to a T. As for the actors, despite the various big names in the film, no one outshines the other. All, even our protagonists, are given the same treatment. These aren’t superheroes or invincible characters from a book, these are miserable, tired, soldiers who have their own assignments to undertake, and all just want to finish them and go home.
The last detail about the film that must be addressed is the cinematography. “1917” is just one continuous shot. There are no jump cuts, no edited shots, no close–ups, just one long take as the camera follows our characters. Granted, anyone who has an eye for editing will be able to tell when a shot ended and the next take begins, but from a storytelling perspective, it does make for a more genuine and interesting viewing as we watch our protagonists’ journey. So, major credit to the film’s cinematographer, Roger Deakins, who also worked as cinematographer for such films like “Fargo,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Blade Runner 2049,” and even “Skyfall.”
“1917” is rated R for violence, some disturbing images and language. There’s nothing sugarcoated here, this is a dark and somewhat draining film about two men who journey through Hell, all just to deliver a piece of a paper. However, its acting and cinematography is something I won’t soon forget. Plus, I applaud the filmmakers for trying to tell a war story in a unique way. Which is why the final score for “1917” is an 8.5 out of 10.
Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a Bachelor’s Degree in Science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. He currently serves as a Journalist and Copy Editor to the Coastal Breeze News and is working on becoming a Published Author.