Review: 1917 (2019)

Director: Sam Mendes
Screenwriters: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Starring: George Mackay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch, Richard Madden
Genres: Drama, War/Historical
MPAA Rating: Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language
Release Dates: 12/25/19 (Limited Theatrical); 1/10/20 (Wide Theatrical); 3/10/20 (Disc/Streaming)
Where to Watch: Rent/Buy on Fandango/Amazon/etc.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 88%

Writer-director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty) has crafted a war film that, on the surface — and from the trailers — doesn’t seem like anything all that original or different from others of the genre; the story centers on two British soldiers who traverse through no-man’s land to deliver an important message that can save thousands of lives.

1917 is similar to Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk, with its sense of urgency and nearly constant unease and tension. If you thought that Dunkirk (which I loved) was intense, you are in for a surprise with the WWI-set 1917, which is even more anxiety-ridden than Nolan’s film. But, what makes Mendes’ film — based on stories from his grandfather, who fought in WWI and to whom the movie is dedicated — so undeniably unique is the fact that it is meant to be appear as one shot, occurring in real time.

You don’t need to watch it in IMAX (although I imagine that is exceedingly impressive) to feel like you are there with the soldiers at the focus of this particular film. There were times when I was disgusted, such as when the protagonists waded through sh*t-filled trenches, and others when I was no nervous for the characters. While the specifics of the story are fictionalized, because it is rooted in authenticity [mainly from Mendes’ grandfather] the made-up elements do not feel fake in the slightest.

Mendes cast non-movie stars in the lead roles, Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones) as the soldier determined to make it to his older brother, and George Mackay (Captain Fantastic) as the steely, somewhat pessimistic soldier who almost seems anti-war. Chapman is fine, but it is Mackay who really shines here, as we see the harsh realities of war through his eyes. I am excited to see him given more roles that show off his talents.

There are some brief [essentially] cameos from Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and Richard Madden that are all impactful and important to the film’s success.

Truth be told, I cried much more than I had expected. There are some beautifully tender and heart-rending moments, which are sometimes hokey or overly sentimental or other war films, but I didn’t view them in that way in this one.

I was blown away [sorry for the lame pun] by Roger Deakins’ cinematography, which is like the one-shot style of the Oscar-winning Birdman — yet, in Deakins’ hands, this technique is even more effective and believable. It is all the more impressive when you realize shooting for this film only began in April of last year [2019], and it was officially released just over six months later. As anxious as the movie made me feel, I really want to see it again. [Note: I did]

 

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