“There’s only one way this war ends. Last man standing.”– Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Mackenzie
By Cain Dennis
Sam Mendes’ “1917” is a unique movie. We often see movies based on wars from the past, but rarely are they presented in a way that feels unique and like you are seeing something new and revolutionary. While 1917’s story falters slightly at times, its “one-shot” presentation and cinematography brings life to this film by making you feel as if you are really in the trenches with the characters. Nearly every second drips with tension and makes you feel as if you need to be looking back over your shoulder to check for enemy snipers. Immersive visuals and sound make it unable to have your attention broken and the movie flies by in a what feels like minutes due to near-perfect pacing.
The film’s story really just serves as a means to an end to get our characters on the move and lay out the reason that we’re being taken along on this adventure. Two British soldiers have to venture away from their camp in order to deliver the message to call off an attack that jeopardizes the lives of 1600 men, including Lance Corporal Blake’s (Dean-Charles Chapman) brother. Chapman and George MacKay portray the two main characters that we follow and there is a great chemistry between them. The relationship between the two soldiers is shown in an organic way, we aren’t told how these two have been friends for years, but it is proven to us via glimpses into their friendship through their behavior and dialogue with one another. The film portrays war as it should be portrayed, in a dark, glamour-less fashion. We see torn up bodies, rotting animal carcasses and the brutal traps set by the enemy hoping to kill unsuspecting opponents. Very fittingly, this film doesn’t have a true villain. The antagonist of “1917” is war itself, we don’t see any cartoonish depictions of the enemy soldiers. In “1917”, everyone is human and they are behaving in accordance with their own fears in the face of imminent death in trench warfare. This film doesn’t seek to make its protagonists into badass action heroes, and in its most chaotic moments, we see these characters at their most vulnerable against the backdrop of war torn towns and countrysides. In lieu of action scenes where we would traditionally see a main character take down multiple enemies and show off how much stronger they are than everyone else, we see our characters run when they are outnumbered. We see true fear and understand why they are terrified. We see what most likely would actually have happened.
The technical achievements of “1917” cannot be understated, the painstaking work put into its cinematography, production design and sound pays off immensely. The entire film is shown as one shot, and while there are a couple of moments obviously used to hide cuts, the illusion is rarely broken and it adds a lot of value to the film. We never get a chance to look away, everything is totally locked in on our characters’ journey. It feels like you are quite literally, the third person coming along with them. There are a couple of sequences in this film that will not leave my mind any time soon. Cinematographer Roger Deakins may soon need to make room for another Academy Award on his shelf, as he is at this point, basically just showing off. His work is a large reason that people will likely be talking about this film for years to come. Without his contribution, this could have ended up just being another war movie, and it doesn’t come off as a gimmick at all, it is an absolutely crucial part of the experience.
“1917” demands to be seen on the largest screen with the best sound quality possible. It shows us a compelling, realistic journey that treats the historical context in which it exists with utmost respect. While it could have had a more complex story and a bit more character development, the technical aspects outshine the small gripes that I have with this film. I very strongly recommend it.
I’m giving “1917” a