1917 ★★★★ Letterboxd Score
Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch
Direction by: Sam Mendes
Screen writers: Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Sam Mendes
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Universal Pictures, in theatres January 10th
George Mackay and Dean Charles-Chapman give the performance of a lifetime
1917 begins casually with a simple look into the day to day duties of a small troop of British soldiers in northern France. These young men who are just doing what soldiers might do in World War I during the slower moments in between engagements: napping, reading mail from home, hanging out clothes to dry, laying barbed wire and smoking. You can tell right away that this is no small production, the sets are very elaborate and accurate to historical description. Right from the get go, we see the stars of this film Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) gently napping under a tree. They are called up to meet with the general and this is where they are given specific orders to hand deliver a message through enemy territory, to warn another company of an ambush. So then we all set off…together, in this ambitious journey. I say together, because that’s quite literally how it feels when you experience this continuously shot film, it feels sort of VR-like. You cannot help yourself from squirreling around and turning in your seat as these two young men travel through thick mud and cold dirty water. There was one moment where you will probably audibly groan (I did) as one of the young men accidentally puts his cut up hand into the belly of rotting corpse — yeah it’s intense.
I think if you were to take away the cinematic quality of which this film was made, you are left with a generic and one dimensional story it just does not really offer much. It is in the way the story is presented that makes this a great and impactful experience. You take a simple story, a raw story of two normal British men and make it look absolutely stunning with a specific idea and vision and there you got something special. Just as war transforms men into “Heros” Rogers Deakins’ cinematic vision transforms 1917 into something more. I was not quite impressed, until the second act. There is a natural intermission where we move from day to night and that is where Deakins’ starts to shine as a cinematographer. The way shadows were given life, bouncing and moving through the war torn buildings was just haunting. It created an atmosphere of anxiety. You only had moments where you could gather information in the light of the flare. This is where we are also introduced to new characters. Schofield’s personality develops and you see him for what he is, a man terribly affected by war. There was absolutely no awkward chemistry between any of the actors, I mean it everyone involved just did so incredibly well. Every moment served its purpose.
If you take it for what it is a masterclass of expert film-making then you will enjoy this movie. If you are looking for a melodramatic tale of romance and war, you might be unimpressed. It is very simple but in the best possible ways. 1917 is an example of hard work and true effort. Practicality almost always bests the computer and 1917 proves that.