The Great War Story
1917 is similar to other war movies in that it has a narrow plot, which is a good thing. If war movies try and tackle too many things at once, they often feel unorganized.
However, 1917 may be the most focused war movie I have ever seen. By this I mean that the story this tells is so central to the film. The film barely has more than two characters for its entire 119-minute run time.
While this may sound like a daunting task, the lead characters Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Thomas Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) do a superb job. These two occupy so much screen time and add a tremendous amount of depth to the simple plot.
The movie follows these two corporals as they relay a message to a battalion of the British Army in World War One. The battalion that they are trying to reach is planning to attack the Germans, but they are walking straight into a trap of over 1600 men.
Schofield and Blake have to send word to the battalion by morning or thousands of British lives will be lost, including the life of Blake’s brother, Joseph, who is a Lieutenant in this battalion.
That is really all there is to this movie plot wise. The two set off on the journey no more than ten minutes into the film and the rest of the movie follows that trip and the various obstacles the two face along the way.
Moviemaking at its Finest
While the lead actors in this film are relatively unknown, I was surprised to see how many major stars were in the film for very short roles. Richard Madden plays Lieutenant Blake, Benedict Cumberbatch plays the colonel that Blake and Schofield need to reach. Colin Firth plays General Erinmore, who gives the two their directions. All of these A-list actors are only on the screen for a very brief amount of time. That being said, they all do a great job at setting up the plot and letting MacKay and Chapman shine as the film’s leads.
The most talked about aspect of 1917 has been its cinematography, and for good reason. As you may know, the whole movie is shot as though it was all done in one take. There is only one obvious cut in the entire film that transitions the setting from day to night. Other than this, the camera follows Schofield and Blake as they go on their journey.
It was very impressive to see the execution of this idea. Director Sam Mendes should get a lot of credit for how good the movie looks. It is also very impressive that this film will keep your attention despite having no cuts. There is not much down time in this movie and the action always kept me engaged.
One more thing I’d mention from the filmmaking standpoint, the sound engineers should really get a lot more praise than I have seen. If you are able to watch this film and have ‘surround sound’ in your house or apartment, please turn it on. It is unbelievable how good this movie sounds. It really makes you feel like you are in the trenches or fields with these characters.
Overall, there was quite a bit of hype surrounding this film and I can certainly understand why. The story is brilliant, and the cast does a great job too. The cinematography should be as recognized as it has been because it is phenomenal.
1917 gets 4.5 stars out of 5