1917 is visually engaging experience, capturing the claustrophobic mess of trench warfare through the lens of a true auteur. Its one-shot approach definitely adds to the intensity and makes for a truly unique WWI experience. Unfortunately, the film's pacing holds the film back from becoming great, making the lacking script stick out like a sore thumb.
Skyfall director Sam Mendes steps back from the 007 franchise to tackle an intimate retelling of his very own grandfather’s encounter with WWI in 1917. 1917 is a visual masterpiece, presented as one take, which increases the intensity and urgency exponentially, thanks to Mendes’ well-crafted direction and his DP Roger Deakins‘ excellent use of natural light and ability to capture the horrific sights of war through the beauty of filmmaking.
1917 follows Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) as they race against the clock in hopes of stopping over 1,600 British troops from walking into an attack, by venturing deep into enemy territory in World War I.
The deeper Blake and Schofield go, the quicker they realize the true horrors of war and just how much it can change a man as their reality is broken and their appreciation for life grows with each life that they take or with each escaped feeling of death that rolls over their body.
If 1917 does one thing right, it is that is excellently captures the nasty conditions of WWI, more specifically, trench warfare. Never have I felt so uneasy and on-edge watching a war film that mostly consists of its two leads walking in-or-around enemy territory with not the slightest clue.
At times, it feels as if nothing is actually happening, yet that feeling in your stomach never quite goes away, because you know something bad is just around the corner.
That intense feeling is made all the more urgent through director Sam Mendes and director of photography Roger Deakins‘ execution of the one-shot approach that makes the film feel like it was shot in one complete take.
This makes the camera movements creative, the use of light impressive and the feeling of urgency all the more important as both characters are constantly racing against the clock as they struggle to survive deep inside enemy territory.
This also lends to the film’s biggest flaw and that is with its script and second half pacing. There reaches a specific point within the story that 1917 comes to a crashing halt and slowly starts to feel more and more like Dunkirk than Saving Private Ryan.
Dunkirk‘s ability to capture the crazed and confused notions of war is apparent, but not all that entertaining as the film felt like a meandering visual show of practical effects and emotionless characters.
1917 establishes emotion within its characters, but they draw more distant as the film progresses and as they eventually say less and less. It doesn’t suffer from over-editing or a complex story, instead becoming weaker based on the fact that there’s not much of anything going on during the film’s middle section.
The ending picks up and then sort of goes out with a whimper, making the overall lasting experience feel lessened, despite some truly master craft work going on during the film’s earlier moments.
On one hand, I enjoyed the visual experience of 1917 and its ability to shed some more light on WWI, while on the other hand, I felt bored to tears with most of the middle portion and felt that it lacked an emotional ending or an ending that at the very least felt more complete.
Director Sam Mendes should still be commended for his work behind the lens. 1917 is a unique film that doesn’t shake its look or feel from beginning-to-end.
I also feel that war movies like this are best viewed in a crowded theater with the loudest sound and biggest and brightest screen and for that I would still urge anyone on the fence with this one to seek it out and experience it for yourself.
your mileage may vary with Mendes’ latest war story, but you still owe it yourself to check it out and come down on either side. I thought it was fine cinema, but not best of the year cinema and maybe that’s not fair to expect as much, but the advertisement campaign really is focusing on the film’s achievements and that might’ve altered my expectations going in.
1917 is a decent war film. I feel that we don’t get enough WWI films, so for that I give it points for telling its own story and capturing a war that we must never forget. Don’t go in expecting the greatest war movie of all-time and maybe you’ll walk out more impressed than I was.
Or maybe fancy editing and photography isn’t enough to keep you interested when the lack of a story or script starts to poke its head through halfway?