Review: 1917

Director(s)Sam Mendes
Principal CastGeorge MacKay as William Schofield
Dean-Charles Chapman as Tom Blake
Release Date2019
Running Time 119 minutes

I don’t really like war movies. They often feel repetitive and worn out to me, never really sticking out in my head. Don’t get me wrong. Movies like Dunkirk are great. They’re just not my thing. I only ended up watching this movie because I wanted to make sure to watch everything nominated for Best Picture. Much to my surprise, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the movie from start to finish and would heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a genuinely engaging cinematic experience.

The story picks up during WW1. British soldiers, William and Tom, are tasked with delivering orders to another platoon of soldiers to call of an doomed attack. They have to dodge German traps and forces, while acting under a time crunch, to keep their brethren from dying pointless painful deaths. For the most part, the story feels horrific and realistic. The brutality of war appears in almost every moment. There are bodies that litter the battlefield, bloated in the waters, hidden beneath rubble waiting to be popped open, and so much more. Death is palpable and ever present anytime we divide into groups that seek to destroy one another.

Though the plot isn’t particularly distinct from other war stories and doesn’t have any huge twists, it’s so breathtaking to experience that you don’t mind. The entire movie is edited to look like it’s one uncut take. You follow the soldiers as a follower. There’s no escape from the war and destruction. You can’t look away because the camera is directly in the middle of all the action. There are no cuts for breaks so the action feels non-stop. However, despite this, the movie never feels like it lacks for scale. There are huge gorgeous set pieces and mesmerizing visual sequences that Mendes somehow manages to fit within the purview of the camera without ever disrupting the flow of the movie. The camera twists and turns in the environment,so despite having no “cuts” and being confined to one continuous “frame”, the movie somehow feels larger than life. The sound design perfectly compliments the way the camera ebbs and flows. It’s not super memorable, but the music did it’s job and helped amped up the underlying feeling in each scene. Sound cuts in and out exactly when it needs to which makes emotional moments more intense.

Though I loved the the latter half of the movie, I couldn’t help but notice how much it went against the realism the movie had established up till then. Acts that would have killed characters earlier in the movie feel like they do almost nothing in the latter half. There were moments where I felt some people had a bit too much plot armor. I really wish the movie had stuck with the rules and had unraveled in a more consistent fashion. It’s not that it makes the experience less fun, but it certainly takes away from the impact of the deaths and the themes at play.

Report Card

TLDR1917 is a gorgeous cinematic achievement that any cinephile should watch. Though it betrays its more serious tone in the latter half, it never feels boring or schlocky. There are gorgeous set pieces and action moments and I know I’ll be purchasing the 4K when it comes out.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

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