1917 is directed by Sam Mendes. The film stars George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch. The film is set to open on Christmas Day 2019 in the United States.
In the year 1917, the First World War is at its height, with carnage everywhere and casualties on both sides. Soldiers Blake and Schofield are given an assignment to deliver a dispatch to the front lines where Allied solders preparing to launch an attack will be walking into a trap set by the Germans. Will the soldiers reach the front lines in time, or will the doomed attack spell a massacre for the British?
Sam Mendes has an impressive filmography to his name, including the likes of American Beauty and the last two James Bond films. Upon hearing he’d be teaming up once again with cinematographer Roger Deakins for a World War I epic, this moviegoer was all-the-more excited. It’s a beautifully shot film that captures the horrors of war perhaps better than any movie of recent memory, with a simple-yet-effective story which won’t overwhelm viewers.
The movie starts with a task given to two soldiers, setting the film into motion. Both are young men who want to fight for their country and who’ve clearly been recognized for their deeds, yet they still flinch at the horrors of the landscapes of the Great War, and rightfully so. We learn just as much as we need to about the two heroes; it’s never overplotted nor does it ever suffer from a lack of depth.
Mendes’ film strikes just the right balance, and while much of the cast are relegated to glorified cameos (as in Benedict Cumberbatch fans may be disappointed at how little of him they see), it’s nice not to see anyone steal the spotlight from the core heroes. There are no subplots, no side stories, no cutaways, and no flashbacks. It’s very much a movie “in the now” with our heroes, and Mendes’ approach works wonders here.
Deakins’ cinematography is the real star of the show. You’ve surely seen war movies set in trenches on the battlefield before, but never have they looked so congested, elaborately constructed, and full of death and men scared senseless by the horrors which await them just beyond their wire. The trenches practically become small cities unto themselves, and Deakins breathes into them spirit no one else ever has. Abandoned barracks, craters on the battlefield filled with human remains, foggy plains, airplanes battling and passing by overhead, burning towns, raging rivers and waterfalls, and the front lines themselves; this is Roger Deakins’ movie, and his “extended cut” style of filming here gives the movie a feel all its own. Regardless of what’s going on in the film, your eyes won’t leave the screen.
A word of warning, however. This movie earns its R rating. It’s extremely violent. There are corpses and human remains, stabbings, shootings, explosions, and all kinds of perilous situations. If you’re squeamish or easily disgusted by violence, don’t watch it.
The screening I saw of the film was in a Dolby Cinema, and this may very well be the best showcase of the aural technology I’ve heard to date, making brilliant use of the surround sound with things like airplanes flying by overhead, and other elements like explosions and surprise gunshots becoming deafening and chair-rattling. I doubt a regular theater could do the sound mix justice here. Believe me when I say I jumped out of my seat on more than one occasion!
1917 is a much-needed World War I epic (we get too many World War II movies) and easily the best war film of recent memory thanks to its streamlined narrative focus, gritty violence, and beautiful cinematography which captures the horrors of war better than so many other movies which tried to do the same thing with lesser results. Very highly recommended, unless you’re squeamish and can’t handle the violence!
1917 Rating: Three-and-a-half out of four stars.
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