by Landon Johnson 09 May, 2020
The WWI action-drama 1917 is an unbelievable achievement from writer/director Sam Mendes. It’s a race against time that’s a visual phenomenon, imbued with a mastery of storytelling and a poetic score.
By using one continuous shot for much of the film, with very minor edits, Mendes and Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins’ take is a bold and ambitious approach to telling a harrowing story about courage.
The story follows two young British soldiers, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), as they are tasked with a serious mission -- they have less than 12 hours to reach a battalion on the frontlines to warn them they are walking into a trap set by the Germans. As the two set out on a labyrinth of this seemingly impossible mission, they navigate the dangerous trenches and other obstacles to get the message through, one that will save the lives of over 1,600 British soldiers, including Blake’s own brother.
The deep, wide-angle shots let the audience know within the first 15 minutes of the film that they are in for an innovative spectacle. While this type of cinema isn’t for everyone, MacKay and Chapman’s sincere performances make up for any sentiments that the film may be reductive in the “gimmick” attempt. There are also well-placed cameos by some of Britain’s great actors such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott and Mark Strong.
This race against time is accompanied by a stirring score from brilliant composer Thomas Newman. The light piano score (like that of American Beauty) is perfectly placed at the film’s climax.
While some may argue that the “one shot” is a gimmick that has been done before,1917 is a dynamic, nail-biting, edge of your seat ride, putting the audience right in the thick of it, witnessing all the hell that is war and perhaps even acknowledge the wastefulness of it. A completely fantastic cinematic experience that cannot be missed.