Reel Reviews | 1917

by Charles Kirkland, Jr.

The most innovative war movie since Saving Private Ryan comes to theaters in 1917.

During the first World War, the Germans have retreated their position allowing the British to advance their troops.  Or so it seems.  British Intelligence has discovered that the Germans have laid a trap for the advancing battalion which is poised to strike in the morning. Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield are given the impossible task of taking word across the deadly territory to tell the battalion to abort their attack.  Just for a little more incentive, Blake’s brother is a Lieutenant in the attacking battalion.

Written by Sam Mendes with Krysty Wilson-Cairns and directed by Mendes, 1917 stars   Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Richard Madden, Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch.  It is a technological masterclass in filmmaking.  Not since the Academy Award-winning Birdman has there been a movie that attempted to make a movie in just one-take and never has it been done with a war movie. 

Cinematographer Roger Deakins and director Sam Mendes embark on one of the most unheard-of odysseys when they decided to use one large-format camera to capture the emotion and action of this film.  Deakins has been quoted as saying that he wanted the way they shot the film to be a storytelling device, not a gimmick to set it apart.  Well, they have achieved both.   The way the movie is shot, the camera and the fact that it is a one-take shot is unrecognizable.  The camera simply falls into the background flawlessly, seamlessly and unobtrusively capturing the action and emotion of the film.  Yet it is known that the film is done in one single take by its own promotion (check out #oneshotchallenge on Youtube).

At the end of the movie, Mendes places a dedication to his grandfather, Alfred Mendes who served in the war as a “runner.”  Alfred and his numerous war stories provided the inspiration for the movie and Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns created a simple, yet suspenseful screenplay for the movie.  The story for the movie is simple, deliver a message and save lives.  But it’s the complexity of the plot that makes for a good movie, it’s the execution.  1917 is executed perfectly.  Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins turn in a fantastically epic war film.

Not to be ignored by addressing all the visual magic, is the incredible soundtrack by composer Thomas Newman.  With 115 separate credits for composing, Thomas Newman, who also worked with Mendes on Skyfall, creates a gripping soundtrack that accentuates and amplifies every action and emotion seen on the screen.  Newman’s score is subtle and can easily be missed but it is the perfect auditory compliment to the visual greatness conveyed by Mendes.

With a simple plot, some technological wizardry and a subtle and engaging soundtrack, 1917 have some incredible, pulse-pounding action scenes that immerse the audience in the horrors and danger of war.  Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language, 1917 is a wondrous triumph of cinematic excellence.  It is a thrilling, perfect mesh of creativity, technology, and story.

Grade:  A+