“1917” is visually lush look back to World War I into the trenches of death and destruction. It takes you on a non-stop journey following two officers going out over the “No Man’s Land” of the front to bring an important message to a squad ready for attack. With the continual trudging onward, against all odds, these two blokes find there are more sides to this war then they thought. The officer is leading a charge into the German-held territory, and they are headed into a certain slaughter. One the guys on this trip has a message to end the assault, and that could save his brother’s life. When the journey is hard and full of peril, the chances that they will both make to the end are slim.
Two officers are selected by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to make a dangerous mission into the enemy-held land. Lance Corporal (LC) Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and LC Schofield (George MacKay) understand that a German fallback is a temporary position. They are gathering a huge batch of new troops to fight against the Allied soldiers. The forward commander is Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) who has placed British battalion into an enemy trap. Blake and Schofield must go and find Mackenzie and tell him his orders are to stop the attack. But to get there, they must cross the deadly “No Man’s Land” and then traverse deep into enemy territory. Also, LC Blake has a chance to save his own brother’s life in the process. There is a limited amount of time, before the attack goes forward — and the slaughter begins.
LC Blake and Schofield follow the Allied trenches as far as they can. They meet a battered Lieutenant Leslie (Andrew Scott) who has just attempted to hold his own area. The losses of his troops are terrible. He laughs to think that these two can make the trip over the barbed wire, hidden mines, and hundreds of dead bodies in “No Man’s Land”. But they go on and face no resistance. The German trench areas are abandoned, and they find a maze of tunnels that lead out to an old artillery dump. They continue overland to find an old farm house. There is nobody around, but there is still fresh milk in a bucket. Where did these people go, and how did they leave so quickly? A German fighter plane attacks the farm house and crash lands next to the farm. Soon, after a struggle with the German pilot – Blake is no longer able to go on…
LC Schofield finds an Allied convoy that is headed to where he is going. The commander (Mark Strong) says he can hop on board, but these tired troops are on the verge of collapse. The bridge is out, and convoy needs to go a different route. Schofield finds a way to get into a small French village but he is under sniper fire. He gets out of that scrape, and then sees that the village is full of roaming Germans and scared civilians. He must go to find where the troops of Colonel Mackenzie are staying. He needs to alert the Colonel that the German retreat is a trap, and there will be a fierce battle for control. He is chased out of the village, and is almost shot by Germans, then nearly drowned in a nearby river. He makes his way out, alone – cold – and wet. But he finds the troops getting ready for a big fight – but it is a fight they cannot win.
LC Schofield is able to find Colonel Mackenzie, but can he convince the officer that he has the right information? Can his journey end knowing that his effort just might have saved thousands of soldiers? The horrors that he has seen are intense. But the luck that has followed him has gotten Schofield this far. He knows that he might have lost a friend and a comrade – but he was able to see many others saved from a certain death. The long and arduous trip has taken a toll on him, as does every day of combat in World War I. But now he can rest easy, knowing that his job is finished. Until the next one…
“1917” tells a very compelling story in the way the camera seems to move non-stop with the characters. The motions and movements are stunning to see on screen. The continuous feel of slowly moving on and on takes a hold on your mind and make you feel that you too are there. This is due to the fantastical work done by the director and the cinematographer. Sam Mendes commands the screen to tell the story in a visceral and tangible way. Roger Deakins makes the camera into an extension of the characters, so much that the camera’s view becomes another way to communicate. In the scenes that are shown and the ways that you see the surroundings, you feel a part of the action. Also, Thomas Newman has created a score that sometimes whispers like the wind, and then later roars and groans like a building on fire.
But then the acting of the two main characters (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) invites you into a dangerous and deadly mission. They have been sent on a fool’s errand. They are commanded to pass into and through the “No Man’s Land”, to get back behind lines where the enemy might lie in wait — only to try and stop their Band of Brothers from meeting a crushing defeat. These two are front and center for most of the movie, and they have an easy banter for two Dead Men Walking. The other name actors show up in smaller roles, and each is fine for the limited time they are on screen. But the lion’s share of work is done by George MacKay, and he is at his peak in that role.
“1917” is best to be viewed on the largest screen you can find, with the best sound system installed. You will be in a dazed wonder to see how well this movie places you back into a place and time that is better forgotten. The amount of effort and energy used to create this movie will be visible in every scene. It something amazing to behold, and there are Oscars that will wait on the other side that that “No Man’s Land” for many people involved.
NOTE: Opens in LIMITED release on December 25, opens nationwide on January 10.
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Starring: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch
Music by: Thomas Newman
Length: 117 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for violence, some disturbing images, and language
Genre: War Action