Saying that 1917 is one of the best movies of 2020, which has barely started, is a bit of an understatement. This, without a shadow of a doubt, is one of the best movies of the last 10 years, and one that will probably make it onto the list of best movies of the 21st Century. It’s that good.
Taking a simple premise: Two soldiers in the middle of war-torn France during WWI, on April 6, 1917, are ordered by the High Command to cross the No Man’s land between the British forces and the German lines, to deliver the very important message of stopping an imminent attack by the British Army on a seemingly retreating German Army. The High Command knows, via some aerial footage, that the German have fortified their positions, and by apparently retreating, have lured the British forces into a false sense of security. They’ve also cut off all telephone lines, making it impossible for the British High Command to communicate the change in strategy to the front lines. So, it is up to these two young soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake, and Lance Corporal Schofield, to deliver the message without getting killed in the process.
Blake has personal stakes on the mission, as his brother happens to be one of the commanding officers in the front line in charge of leading the fateful offensive, and wants to get there as soon as possible to deliver the message, in spite of the overwhelming odds against them; while Schofield thinks is a foolish and dangerous endeavor to attempt crossing the enemy lines in broad daylight, and without the aid of either ground or aerial support.
What ensues is a classic war tale that plays out, most of the time, as an adventure story. To get to their final destination, they will have to overcome an ever increasing amount of obstacles in the form of underground hidden land mines, treacherous terrain, aerial dogfights, snipers, and enemy divisions hell-bent on killing them.
It’s a heartbreaking and, at times, very emotional tale of Hope and Loss, Friendship, and Sense of Duty. In the space of a brief series of exchanges between our main protagonists at the beginning of the movie, we get to know and care for them. It is mainly thanks to the performances of both Dean- Charles Chapman and George McKay, that we get really invested in both the characters, and the story being told. The journey is, ultimately, more important than the destination. Will they get there? Can they fulfill their mission?. We’re always on the edge of our seats, expecting the worst, but hoping for the best. Along the way, they will meet friends and foes, with some very surprising bit parts played by some of the best actors of the British scene like Mark Strong, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch. And it is during these exchanges that we get to see the worst, but also the best that Mankind can offer. It’s not all black and white, there’s grays too. A lot of grey.
Being a filmmaker that I’ve been following with interest ever since his debut in American Beauty (1999), Sam Mendes has slowly, but surely, evolved into one of the most interesting filmmakers today. He’s honed and perfected his skills over the years, offering some of the best movies we’ve seen in the last twenty years, among them, one of the most rounded, and satisfying Bond movies we’ve seen in years, Skyfall (2012). It was during the making of that movie, and the next entry in the Bond series, Spectre (2015), that I believed he developed the skills the deliver one of the most amazing technical achievements that we’ve seen in recent cinematographic history. Deciding to shoot this movie as a one shot sequence, may be a marvel to behold, but it sure was no mean feat to accomplish, and it definitely must’ve been a logistical nightmare. He was helped in this task by brilliant British Cinematographer, Roger Deakins who has, once again, outdone himself with yet another Cinematography job that will surely earn him another deserved Oscar come Award season. Of course, if you look closely, and pay attention, you can see where the cuts are made, as it would be physically impossible to make a two-hour long one shot sequence, otherwise. But the cuts are so seamless, and so well made, that the magic spell is never broken. With a meticulously recreated war-torn landscape of trenches, wire fences, tunnels, mud, and amputated, and bloated corpses lying around for even more dramatic effect, thanks to a brilliant Production Design by Dennis Gassner, and a tense, but at times, majestic soundtrack by film composer and Mendes’ frequent collaborator, Thomas Newman, who sonically ratches up the suspense of the different action set pieces as the movie progresses; we are totally submerged in this experience.
A masterclass of suspense and war movie action, that will keep you nailed to your seat. I know I was. Unavoidable cinematic appointment of the year, and an absolute masterpiece for the ages. One of the absolutely best war movies ever made. Emotional Rollercoaster. Enough said. Don’t miss out.
Thanks for reading.