When compared to other conflicts like World War II, the Vietnam War, and the American Civil War, World War I is relatively untouched in film. Sam Mendes’ new film 1917, uses the war as a backdrop for a surprisingly small and human story told using some incredible cinematography from Roger Deakins.
In 1917, Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay star as 2 British soldiers who are given a seemingly impossible mission to travel behind enemy lines and deliver a message to stop 1,600 British soldiers from attacking and walking into a trap. The movie is designed to look as if it was filmed all in one take, with the camera never breaking away from the main characters.
The technical achievement alone makes 1917 one of, if not the best movie of 2019. The amount of planning and execution that goes into making the film appear to be one take is mind-blowing. Even with the cuts, which are really well hidden for the most part, you can tell how long many of the takes actually are. One of the most surprising things that the one-take technique added to this movie is how it amplifies some of the emotional moments. Knowing the camera isn’t going to cut away from what you are watching makes certain moments hit hard, and makes some of them tough to watch.
Luckily, the technical aspects don’t stand alone around a mediocre movie. Everything in the movie works well and nothing in here is bad enough to distract you from the good stuff. The acting, particularly from the two leads is great despite them being relative unknowns. I was surprised at the number of cameos from famous British actors that showed up, but they were welcome additions.
Another big thing that stood out to me was the score. Thomas Newman does an excellent job of using a lighter score during moments where its necessary but then coming in strong in other moments. Rarely does a score standout to me, given my lack of musical expertise, but when it does I definitely have to give it a shoutout.
1917 is not a war movie in the normal sense of the genre. There’s very little actual fighting in it, but it uses it effectively and doesn’t shy away from showing the horrors of war. The down to earth human story, performances, and the fact that the movie is a technical marvel make this a must-see, and a must-see on the biggest screen possible. I’m glad I waited to see this before finalizing my Top 10 of 2019 because this definitely deserves a spot.
1917 gets a Golden Donut.