War epics have always held a special place in my heart, ranging from the classics of the 60’s like “The Great Escape,” “The Dirty Dozen” and “Von Ryan’s Express,” to modern epics like “Saving Private Ryan,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “Dunkirk.” These two eras differ drastically in their depiction of war, with the classics being more action-filled and lighter in tone, and the newer films being more dark, gritty and realistic.
However, both present stories filled with the ideals that get soldiers and citizens through war time struggles: hope and courage. Expertly crafted, riveting and engaging, Sam Mendes’s “1917” is a war movie that perfectly embodies these ideals, and earns its place amongst some of the greatest war films ever made.
Set in France during WWI, “1917” tells the story of two soldiers sent on a mission to inform another regiment to hold off on an offensive maneuver that could result in a massacre. Loosely inspired by the stories of Sam Mendes’s own grandfather, “1917” makes for an incredible work of historical fiction grounded in reality. Following our two soldiers played by relatively unknown actors Dean-Charles Chapman and Adam MacKay, Sam Mendes directs yet another film made to look like it was all in two continuous shots.
As they make their way through the trenches to far beyond enemy lines, the camera does not stop moving, and constantly rolls with the main characters of the film in a setting that has never been done before. What’s even more interesting is the revelation that the film is depicted in real time and plays out over the course of its running time.
In addition to the superb set and sound design, the method of editing the film into two consistent shots plays out as more than just a gimmick, and really immerses you into the setting. The trailers are only able to scratch the surface of the breathtaking shots this film has to offer. Sitting in a theater with surround sound, the sound of bullets zipping through the air and planes flying by overhead are all perfectly coordinated to place you on the horrific battlefield. The tension and race against time are felt, and Adam MacKay’s standout performance gets audiences thoroughly immersed in the soldier’s plight.
This is where the film shines as well, apart from the filmmaking aspect. As mentioned before, the film builds upon the ideals of hope and courage helping the two soldiers to complete their mission. Adam MacKay’s Lance Corporal Will Schofield sees the brutal sides of the battlefield and the relentlessness of the enemy.
Many times in the film he overcomes great odds through his determination and fights alongside Dean-Charles Chapman’s Lance Corporal Tom Blake to stay alive long enough to deliver the message they’ve been tasked with conveying. The fatigue and pain can be seen but they push through horrendous situations with courage, and it is this human aspect that also makes the film well worth a watch.
A non-stop edge of seat thrill, “1917” is one of the greatest movies of 2019, and if you were late to watch it in time for the Oscars, be sure not to miss this one.