Filmmaking with substance. Visually extroardinary.
Intensely choreographed with a mind-boggling set.
A profound way of creating respect for war heroes.
This may not deliver the hard-hits and heavy feet that you may be looking for if you're a war movie fan.
A movie being about the First World War as opposed to World War II (how many of those have we had?) could perhaps grant you some sort of desire to want to watch it. Well, Sam Mendes‘ 1917 brims with redeeming qualities that make it a good enough watch for audiences who wouldn’t typically buy a ticket to a war movie. The film is a caucus of extravagant production techniques working with simplicity and purpose, as well as perspective in setting.
This an immersive experience that isn’t nearly as draining as other war films, somehow still better-putting audiences in the shoes of soldiers than most.
1917 is about honouring the micro tales and the everyday heroes
1917 made a movie out of my favourite kind of story. The kind of story you read about not in the bulk of your history textbooks, but perhaps in the little blurb sections that tell the ‘smaller picture’ tales. They typically tell the stories of war heroes too easily forgotten, and depict the marvels of human endurance and sacrifice in the most brute situations. They’re the epitome of realistic heroism, the type of people that you and I wish we’d be if put in such lonely, extreme situations. And it is here–not in its ‘one-take’ format–that the engrossing nature of 1917 begins.
The movie is a story of two British soldiers who answer to a mission call expecting to serve as water boys, instead being tasked with something far more laborious and treacherous. Soldiers Schofield and Blake are entrusted with a last-ditch attempt at saving another 1,600-strong British battalion which is about half a day away from delivering an attack on the Germans. Only, the Germans are well aware and have lain an ambush.
The only way to stop the death of the regiment is for soldiers Schofield and Blake to deliver a hand-written message to Colonal Mackenzie, and to do this, they have to cross no man’s land and German trenches. It’s also almost definite that Soldier Blake was chosen for the mission because his brother is part of the Devonshire Regiment that’s about to walk into a trap.
The movie is disciplined in following the story of these two soldiers, and the technical methods embody this to a T.
This isn’t like Nolan showing off
Filmmaking is meant to serve the intent of storytelling. If not, it is a mere showreel. Even positively-reviewed directorial attempts like Dunkirk can lack real substance. The perfectly executed one-take format of 1917 is used to embody both the premise and the single-adventure setting of the story. The fact that we’re following only two characters crafts a journey that is both intimate and personal, almost as if you’re a third, useless soldier on their mission.
The one-take format is also used in this movie in a manner that invokes a spectrum of relatable emotions that films may not typically grant you, such as the feeling of uncertainty. There’s an early moment on the film where the two soldiers have to shoot a flare to indicate that they’ve arrived at a particular destination point. You are not allowed the shortcut of knowing whether their flare was even seen, and you are forced into their journey feeling wary as they continue on their mission at that very moment.
The format also creates a sense of heavy sense of respect for these soldiers, something that other war films could learn from. Emotional moments in 1917 do not impede a much on your energy because you are not a victim of them. Instead, you watch the characters do what they would have to do at that moment. You offer sympathy in moments of mourning and watch as they pick themselves back up for a greater cause. You aren’t granted exposition prior to where you first met them, and there are no flashbacks here. This reinforces a sense of understanding and heroism in that there’s no way audiences could truly comprehend their position. All we, as audiences know is that these soldiers powered through toil.
It’s these things that make the film so immersive without being overly imposing or propaganda-bound. Not to mention, the plot doesn’t really depict unjust actions being committed against the heroes we follow and strays clear of propagating negative feelings toward the opposing German forces. American war films tend to do quite the contrary, almost exploiting the opportunity. Through and through, 1917 is about the soldiers getting from Point A to B to serve their British comrades, and it staves off of all the accessorising. This is the way.
A perfect balance of all key elements
In 1917, no one aspect overwhelms another. Everything from the shooting format, to the music of the film are all played to intricate measure. The film always seems to prioritise the need to create a holistic retelling of the experience of these two soldiers. Nothing’s gaudy.
The two main characters played by George MacKay (Lance Corporal William Schofield) and Dean-Charles Chapman (Lance Corporal Tom Blake) bear the weight of their characters with excellent chemistry and earnestness that perfectly suit the task at hand. It’s remarkable.
The sequence choreography is intense and just marvellous. It’s easy to forget that this was filmed masterfully in numerous confined sets as opposed to the long journey that the soldiers actually had to take. It’s clear that the director Sam Mendes has had extensive experience doing stage and theatre work, where space is a commodity.
1917 will not have you walking out of the theatre feeling emotionally pushed, and that’s exactly what puts this movie on a pedestal. Holding all of its elements steadily on an untipped scale, the film promises an experience that is open to the perception of every individual’s feelings. All that matters here is that it gave you the story of two unyielding, heroic soldiers, because war is cold and brutal, even for those who made the most minute impact. It is for you to decide what you want to indulge in.