Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldier’s brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.
Sam Mendes latest film, ‘1917’, is an immersive movie set during the First World War in the year of its title, focusing on two young soldiers tasked with undertaking a dangerous mission that could save the lives of 1,600 men. Apart from one time jump, the action all plays out in real time through a continuous tracking shot that follows Lance Corporals Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) as they receive their mission and attempt to complete it, facing many obstacles along the way. This stylistic approach compliments the action and I found the film to be a gripping tale that lays bare the hardships of fighting in this war – it’s a spectacular technical achievement but it doesn’t take anything away from the story, and Mendes pulls off the balance incredibly well.
The film begins with Schofield and Blake receiving their mission from General Erinmore (Colin Firth, in one of many supporting cameos), which will involve them hand delivering a message to another battalion who are about to embark (unknowingly) on a suicidal attack. Blake’s brother is amongst the battalion and this provides the personal angle to incentivise the men to succeed (it’s not too dissimilar to ‘Saving Private Ryan’ in this outline). Chapman and MacKay are solid if unspectacular in the leading roles, but this is a film more about the events unfolding in front of us and less about the actors selling it, and in that respect it succeeds in almost all regards. I did feel that there is one major misstep occurring approximately 2/3rd’s through the film when the momentum is stalled by a short period that takes the characters away from the action for a couple of scenes, and it did hinder my overall enjoyment. For me, it didn’t work and the intensity that had been built up to that point was essentially reset to zero, diminishing the power and immersion of the final act. This is the kind of film that works best when it has the pressure and tension ramped up as high as it can go, and any break in that is to its detriment.
There have been many better war films than ‘1917’, but not many directed in as unique a style, and I thought ‘1917’ was a really good piece of work, if not quite as deserving of the level of acclaim and awards that it is receiving at the moment.
Directed By: Sam Mendes
Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Colin Firth, Claire Duburcq, Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Mays, Adrian Scarborough, Jamie Parker, Michael Jibson, Richard McCabe and Nabhaan Rizwan