REVIEW: ‘1917’ takes viewers on a harrowing tour of World War I

“1917:” (Or, the unexpected virtue of one continuous take).

This World War I film, directed by Sam Mendes, tells the story of Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), who’re sent on a mission to call off a major attack on retreating German soldiers. The two protagonists are ordered to do so because the German forces are actually baiting the Allies into a trap.

To deliver the message, Blake and Schofield must cross a still active war-zone and the areas of France turned into a wasteland by the heavy trench warfare. The film is shot with one continuous take, following the characters all the way on their journey.

World War I was fought in trenches, with horrible conditions, and new weapons of destruction. It’s well documented just how awful the first world war was, and this movie recreates it in convincing fashion.

“1917” is a technical marvel and it is easily one of the most suspenseful pictures 2019 had to offer. The film holds an audience’s attention from start to finish, as the two main characters move across the war-torn French countryside.

The level of attention to detail is unbelievable. The production design is phenomenal and the camerawork by cinematographer Roger Deakins is perfect. Whether the characters are crawling through the muddy battlefield or running through a half-destroyed city at night with gunfire going off, “1917” is a raw, authentic experience that immerses an audience.

Courtesy DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment and Universal Pictures.

Mendes’ picture isn’t just a well crafted experience for an audience’s eyes and ears, though. The movie isn’t lacking in humanity. It explores the impacts of war on the human condition and captures so many emotions the characters can experience at different times.

From fear about potential attacks to the slight relief when other soldiers enter the film to help for a moment, “1917” is all about human interactions through the toughest circumstances. Moments that are especially powerful are scenes where the two protagonists are helped in ways along their journey.

These sequences are fleeting, but do give an audience some reprieve from the battles and serve as a reminder that some good exists, even during some of the harshest times.

The characters themselves not only work as down-to-Earth people to follow through this movie, they’re also great because they represent young men in general who’ve had to fight in war. The horrors these two face in their effort isn’t uncommon, and their journey gives an audience a reminder of just how many young individuals went through such battles.

Chapman and MacKay convincingly portray them as soldiers who’re already exhausted from the war at the start. The two also very well portray a friendship, the willingness to fight and die for each other is true on screen here.

While the two main soldiers are good, though, “1917” doesn’t have the depth of characterization as, say, a “Saving Private Ryan.” Plus, from a narrative point, the movie is somewhat shallow in how it takes the characters from one place to another.

Despite a few flaws, though, “1917” is still a top tier war movie full of powerful sequences. Mendes, Deakins, as well as the rest of the cast and crew, deserve a lot of credit for bringing this whole thing together in tremendous fashion. 4.75 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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