Note: This is a spoiler-free 1917 movie review
What’s the most impressive thing you’ve accomplished over the last seven months? Sam Mendes started and finished production on the most brilliantly shot movie of the year.
1917 is one of the films of 2019 thanks to a mix of beautiful shots, an unpredictable epic of a story, and a palpable tension that keeps you enthralled.
A Cinematic Victory
You’re free to use whatever adjective you want when describing the way 1917 is shot, as long it’s a positive one. The most prominent thing about the shots is how long they are and how emotional they are throughout the film, with varying emotions invoked.
Immediately you’re thrown into the eerie scenes of a World War I battlefield, as two young British soldiers are given an impossible mission. As their journey progresses you experience the trials and tribulations as they do in real-time, right over their back shoulder.
The film jumps from a heart-pulsing chase away from German soldiers to an elegant interaction with a french family, seamlessly, and without any trace of an edit. Then back to a startling battle with Germans followed by a chaotic plunge into river rapids. And it all winds up with a captivating climax that has you yearning for a positive outcome while you root as hard as you can.
If that sounds like a full range of emotions, you’re right. And that’s within a 50-minute window of the film.
1917 is a fully immersive depiction of World War I, and each scene brings something unique. It’s a directoral achievement that hasn’t been matched in a long time.
Another benefit the audience gets from the way the film is shot comes with the long, one-take feel. It’s one thing to have short, bursting scenes with “pops” of emotion. 1917 is on another level because it is suspenseful, and holds the suspense for five straight minutes. Then it’s humanizing for seven straight minutes. Then harrowing for another six minutes. Back-to-back-to-back.
The audience can’t help but feel impacted by this film, because they have no other choice as they sit in and with their emotions consistently and for extended periods.
A Story Fitting Of The Scenes
A movie can be shot as beautifully as you like, and this one is. Without a story that grabs the audience, it won’t have the fully intended impact. 1917 melds its shots with an epic story that makes you feel like it could only be told this way.
It’s clear immediately that these two British soldiers, Blake and Schofield, are in way over their heads. That brings extra realism to the film because you realize everyone was in way over their heads during World War I. In this case, two young men are sent through enemy territory to stop a British attack. That plan is actually a German trap that will kill 1,600 Brits. One of those men is Blake’s brother.
The next 100 minutes is all twists and turns while they venture deeper into enemy territory. You’re never quite sure if one or both of them will make it at certain points. And you’re very sure one or both of them won’t make it at other points.
The story has a unique effect on the audience, because it’s not all explosions and gunfire, but you’re still on the edge of your seat throughout the film.
Combine that with the fact Mendes picked the brain of and sources World War veterans, and you’ve got a unique authenticity any great war movie needs.
The casting choices seem odd on the surface, but take a closer look and they make cohesive sense.
If you’re looking for big names, there are plenty to spot. Colin Firth, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, and Benedict Cumberbatch among them. They all bring the immediate, “Oh hey it’s that guy!” excitement, but none are in the film for more than five minutes. The two main characters are played by relative unknowns in Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay.
Why does this work so well and add to 1917?
I’m glad you ask. What if Tom Holland (who was originally in talks) was cast as Schofield instead of MacKay? You’d think, “Hey that’s Spider-Man running through France fighting Germans. Cool!”, that’s what. As is Chapman and MacKay are two young actors, showing off their acting chops, and conveying the message Mendes wants to send on the screen.
These men are attempting to become war heroes, but they’re not recognizable. There are millions of men and stories like theirs in World War I, World War II, and all wars. Choosing these actors allows you to focus on the men and the story rather than the actors.
It also helps that Chapman and MacKay both put on quality performances. It’s no easy task being asked to hold and carry the emotion you’re expected for shots as long as the ones in 1917. They both nail it without a slip-up and are able to flip tone on a dime.
Should I See 1917?
There is no doubt this is one of the best films of the year. It is making a run at the Oscars as a late submission and deserves all the praise it will get.
If you are a cinephile film fan, 1917 is for you. A history fan? 1917 is for you. If you are a war movie fan, 1917 is the best one in a while. The movie comes in under two hours, so it’s good for a night out that doesn’t take your entire night.
Yes. You should see 1917.
(Featured Image courtesy of EPK)