During World War I, two British soldiers — Lance Cpl. Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Cpl. Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) — receive seemingly impossible orders. In a race against time, they must cross over into enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow comrades — including Blake’s own brother.
War films can be some of the most brutal and hard-hitting pictures out there in cinema. A lot of the time, war movies are based on true events and some depict all of the events as they happened in real life. Either way, these movies are often depressing but take you on an emotionally powerful journey with these characters with everything heightened because of the dire situation everybody is in.
My personal favorite war movie from the 2010s has to be Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson. That was a picture that was so emotional, riveting, and had some of the most suspenseful sequences in film in years. Another favorite of mine has to be Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. If I were to compare 1917 to any other existing war movie it would have to be the latter, and that is not a bad thing.
The hype surrounding 1917 for me was incredibly immense. Everything about the film looked like it would be an incredible thrill-ride and now that I have seen it, I can happily report that it is most certainly that and so much more.
You may have heard by now that 1917 was designed to look like it was shot all in one take, and that was probably one of the things that I was looking forward to seeing the most. How would all of the shots look? Would it be easy to tell whenever there was a subtle cut? Well, firstly, the cinematography here is some of the best these eyes have seen in ages. If this ends up winning director of photography Roger Deakins another Oscar for Best Cinematography at the upcoming Academy Awards in February, it would be incredibly deserved.
Every aspect of the cinematography is breathtaking. We as the viewer typically follow behind our main characters, making everything that much more intense. Whenever a character turns a corner, there is always a sense of fear. Will there be somebody hiding behind that corner with a gun and ready to kill? Will there be tripwires or mines on the ground anywhere?
This was one of the most anxiety-inducing movies I have seen in a while, but that is a good thing. There is rarely a chance to breathe here. There are really only two or three moments where we can take a breather. The rest of the time we are always moving and there is always something exciting happening on screen. However, despite that, the one scene in particular where we get a couple of minutes to breathe honestly took me out of the film a little bit. We go from an extremely exciting and white-knuckled sequence instantly to a quiet and almost relaxing scene and that was jarring. It’s also worth noting that the scene felt pointless and really did not add anything of value to the story. It felt like a scene that was added just to increase the overall running time perhaps.
In terms of the characters here, they are decent. While I did want our lead protagonists to succeed in their journey, I feel like I could have cared a whole lot more than I did. We really do not get that much character development which was a shame. The aforementioned Dunkirk had a similar problem for me. That film’s technical aspects were so astounding and it was an emotionally powerful movie as a whole, which was great, but it had nothing in terms of characters. While this is definitely an improvement on Dunkirk with its characters, they still were not as fleshed out as they could have been. This is a film about the situation that our protagonists are in. It is a film that is meant to show us the size, scale, and impact of this event, and is less interested in developing characters, which is both a positive and a negative.
All of the musical cues here are exceptional as well, and it is accompanied with truly masterful editing by Lee Smith. Like I said earlier, I was worried that I would be able to tell whenever a small cut was made with the cinematography, but it was effortless. Plus, all of the exciting action scenes, while not as many as you may think, hit hard. The sound design is award worthy, and really everything about 1917 is. Those looking for a highly immersive cinematic journey into World War I will not leave the theatre disappointed.
1917 is an uncomfortably tense and suspenseful thrill-ride that is boosted with its masterful editing and cinematography that makes you feel like you’re really there.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: R for violence, some disturbing images, and language
Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Distributed by: Universal Pictures (United States)
Release Date: December 25, 2019 (United States)
Running Time: 119 minutes