By Adam Ray Palmer
Arguably 1917 will be the war film of the year, and to be honest, it is certainly the best this decade so far…
Sam Mendes brings the world a military epic of seismic magnitude. The technical pieces, the acting and the soundtrack are just three of the outstanding components.
Let’s not waste time, I am writing this review in one single take (maybe three or four *hint hint) …
1917 tells the story of two fresh-faced, ordinary lance corporals who are sent on a desperate mission behind enemy lines by their General. Why so desperate I hear you ask yourself? Well, to prevent a massacre of British troops on the front line.
The two-hour runtime doesn’t dilly-dally getting into the speed of things as we see Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) summoned to their General’s tent. Within five minutes of the movie beginning, Colin Firth (General Erinmore) has given the lads a near-impossible task of saving thousands of British soldiers, including Blake’s brother (Richard Madden).
What ensues from here is an immersive cinematic experience that delivers plenty of edge-of-your-seat thrills. On the build-up to 1917’s release, there has been talk of Mendes’ one-take approach to making this film. I am going to say it, I think there is at least three cuts throughout. But taking nothing away from this production, it is a true achievement in filmmaking for such a difficult narrative to get over the line. It has elements of The Revenant throughout – lots of drawn-out silences, long-sweeping shots and more often than not, you’re following the protagonists every move as it is your own.
Whilst on the technical side of things, it is fair to say, what Mendes’ creates is a world that feels a lot more real than what we would expect. What I mean by this is, when you watch war epics of the past, it feels quite “Hollywood” and difficult to fully get engrained into – because let’s be honest – most of us have never experienced war. But what is achieved in 1917 is something I have rarely felt before: cinematic apprehension.
Whilst watching the Lance Corporals travelling across bullet-ridden terrain, it makes you feel hollow inside. The silent sequences are breath-taking, as it leaves you watching with your own fearful thoughts of what could happen next, or worst still, what would you do in this horrific situation? For me, 1917 is not a straight-up war story, it goes much deeper into your psyche. Unlike most conflict films, it never has to shout at you. The simplicity grabs your attention and buries itself into your mind.
When it comes to the acting department, Dean-Charles Chapman’s Blake is the louder role between the two central characters. It’s here where I think the film truly wins. The casting of the pair is impeccable, both showcasing their talent flawlessly. Blake is the younger, more audacious individual that seems the more naïve; having less experience than Schofield when it comes to combat. It’s like the audience are more aligned to Blake’s identity, as we allow Schofield to direct us through. This is a clever tactic in Krysty Wilson-Cairns and Mendes’ script, as we metaphorically hold MacKay’s hand blindly throughout the plot, leading to the “cinematic apprehension” I mentioned before.
I can fully get behind why 1917 is leading the way for awards season glory. It has already triumphed at the Golden Globes, and I imagine it won’t slow down at the BAFTAs either. The climatic personal touch that the movie punches you with at the end also elevates this production’s chances of success. On the whole, the recipe to 1917 on paper looked great, and when it’s served up, it’s even better.
Cineroom’s rating: 4.5 stars
1917 is out now worldwide – certificate 15