The trend lately in Hollywood is to produce movies that are not worth your time or a remake of a better-made film that seeks to make a quick buck banking on nostalgia. Original storytelling is something of a rarity, like an eclipse of the sun, but it does happen.
The new film “1917” is one of those exceptions because it draws the audience in from the beginning and does not let go until the final credits roll across the screen.
The film centers on two British soldiers during World War I. They are given a mission to get a message behind enemy lines to a unit that is planning to attack the Germans the following morning. Unknown to the unit, the Germans have set a trap for the soon to be attacking British.
The message has to be delivered personally because phone lines have been cut. If they fail, the lives of 1,600 men will be lost, including a brother to one of the two carrying the message.
From the moment the story starts to roll across the screen, I was hooked because the storytelling was so immersive. It made me feel like I was in the trenches with these soldiers on their mission. I got that feeling from how the film was shot: You saw the conditions these men lived, fought and died in daily. It didn’t seek to glorify war but only wanted to tell the audience about the horrors these people faced.
A strong point about “1917” is how it delivers its story in an impactful way. The characters in the film feel real and genuine and that is reflected in their dialogue. It is nothing over the top but shows depth and heart. When the two main characters, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay), need to talk they do and they don’t waste time with filler conversation.
The two other parts that are vital in telling this story are the cinematography and the musical score, which work together hand in hand. The camera work at times was very up close and personal with the characters to reflect the danger they face. These point of view shots are incredible. Other times there were wide shots of the entire landscape of the battlespace. The music was smartly paired with the camera work to create a movie that is destined to be classic.
What is compelling about this movie is the realism of the front lines in World War I, where troops battled not only the enemy but trenches that bred sickness and held rats. They were surrounded by the dead and dying.
The story of Blake and Schofield is fictitious but the task of delivering messages to other outfits was performed by soldiers in the field. Director Sam Mendes told Deadline.com the idea for the film was based loosely on a story told to him by his grandfather, Alfred H. Mendes, who had served during the war. Mendes said his grandfather was tasked to deliver a message on the Western front and the film is dedicated to his memory.
“George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are not my grandfather,” Mendes told Deadline.com. “But the spirit of what he told me and the central idea of a man carrying a message wouldn’t leave me. It just clung on in there somehow, for the last 50 years.”
Today, it almost seems like World War I is a time in history that’s been forgotten. And that is sad. A war that claimed a combined 40 million military and civilian casualties needs to be remembered and not just left as a footnote at the bottom of a page. Go see this film before it departs the theater. It is one of the best films of 2019 and needs to be a contender for best picture at the Academy Awards.
If you want to learn more about World War I, also check out director Peter Jackson’s documentary, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” that was released in 2018.
I give “1917” 10 out of 10 stars. The film runs 119 minutes and is rated R for violence, some disturbing images and language.
For more information about the movie, go to its website at www.1917.movie