Sam Mendes has achieved something many filmmakers hope for, yet rarely achieve: he has made a movie that will be considered an epic and will rank among the greatest war films ever made. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that this film, 1917 will win the Academy Award for best picture this year. You heard it here first.
This incredibly simple yet fascinating plot involves the trek two lance corporals take to deliver orders to a 2nd Battalion colonel. The message warns the colonel that military intelligence has confirmed a terrible fact: the supposed retreat of the Germans is really a trap.
What makes this film so fantastic is the complete immersion the audience experiences. From the first steps of Corporals Schofield (future mega-star George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), we are completely involved in every emotion, confrontation and obstacle. To add tension to the story (as if it weren’t tense enough), Corporal Schofield is warned by no-nonsense General Erinmore (Colin Firth) that his brother (Richard Madden) is among the 2nd Battalion members who are headed into the enemy’s clutches.
This film seems to have no cuts. It is as though the camera begins the journey with the soldiers and never stops until the credits roll. We are taken on a dangerous, awful journey through treacherous conditions where rats, mud, booby traps, dead bodies, snipers and the unnerving realities of war wait around every corner. It’s a thrill ride and nightmarish trip through a post-apocalyptic house of horrors, yet mostly in daylight. Even the moments of quiet respite are pockmarked with elements of terror and dread: A starving young woman hides out in the middle of a battleground, caring for an abandoned baby; A beautiful forest with a gentle stream meandering through it takes our attention away from the dead bodies floating in the water. Much of the time, the camera is following or alongside the soldiers, yet the camera also allows us to look behind the soldiers at pivotal times in the story, especially when they are fleeing the enemy. It’s a magnificent experience for an audience to be so involved. It’s brilliant filmmaking.
The cast is fantastic and each performance is authentic and meaningful. MacKay’s facial expressions alone, especially the soul-baring intensity in his eyes, make his performance a standout. The cameos by Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch as 2nd Battalion Colonel Mackenzie are notable and well-done. Chapman’s performance contributes much to the story in his short time on screen, and remains in the hearts of the audience throughout the movie.
You must see it on the big screen. It’s one of the year’s best. My grade: A.
1917 opens Jan. 10 and is rated R for violence and disturbing images. Running time is 119 minutes.