Warning – Spoilers
Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins combine their talents to deliver an epic war film that is not only a flawless technical achievement worth marvelling at all by itself, but an emotional experience that’ll leave you breathless. It’s a feeling many films of its ilk strive for, but few can succeed at those lofty ambitions of hitting all the right notes across the sensory spectrum.
We follow Schofield and Blake, two young British soldiers at the height of WWI in Northern France, who are given an important mission to reach another regiment and deliver a critical message to call off an attack which will cost the lives of 1600 men. They don’t have long to complete this mission, and so to increase the sense of urgency, Mendes wisely opts to have the story unfold in real-time. Accentuating this further is how 1917 is filmed to look like one continuous take with hidden edits – impressive in concept, and flawless in execution. By shooting in this way, not only does the experience feel smoother, but we, as the audience, are almost unwitting participants in the young soldiers’ ordeal, right there beside them when they have to fight to survive. The level of immersion and investment is intense, and this tension never lets up.
In fact, 1917 builds and builds from scene to scene, offering gruelling images, heartfelt emotion and a relentless immediacy as it drives towards its climax. George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are excellent as the two leads, supported along the way by some famous cameos. And everyone delivers in each long take, whether suitably subdued or fiercely active given the context of the film and the haunting environment. However, when Chapman’s character is suddenly killed, it becomes MacKay’s film, and he owns every scene. Rarely have I felt so attached to a character’s predicament like in 1917, but his strong performance and urgent mission almost link you to his heartbeat, forcing you to feel everything he feels in any given situation. We want him to survive; we need him to. The pride you feel for his bravery is incredible, and by the end you’re mentally exhausted. It’s a testament to the script, the camerawork, the music, the production design… everyone involved.
Overall, 1917 masterfully captures the horror of war, the challenge of survival, and the emotion of loss. An expertly crafted piece of film-making, Sam Mendes has delivered a breathtaking masterpiece that will make you want to live through it all over again.
Score – 10/10