The British frontlines, raw courage, and 1,600 souls dependent on two men and a letter. About two weeks into the new year, English director and screenwriter, Sam Mendes, took theaters by storm releasing his spectacular World War I thriller, “1917”. In the short time it’s been out, the film has already been nominated for 10 Academy Awards and one Golden Globe award, three of which Mendes himself nominated for.
The film takes place on the British front lines during World War I capturing the horrifying realities of two soldiers, Lance Cpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay, who are ordered to deliver a message over enemy riddled territory and call off an attack for the following morning. The two must cross over nine miles of French countryside to deliver the letter and potentially save the lives of 1,600 plus souls. The order to deliver the messages takes an emotional turn as Lance Cpl. Blake is informed that his own brother is among those men. With nothing but a map, a rifle each and their backpacks, the two travel over enemy lines and witness the horror that is war.
One of the film’s most outstanding aspects is its powerful screenplay. Overall, Mendes does a phenomenal job representing the humanity of the two protagonists, Blake and Schofield, as well as differentiating their personalities to stir an emotional response. Blake is a courageous and upbeat character because of his innate ability to crack jokes and help others regardless of their differences. Schofield, however, is more humble and rational about his actions despite taking on a somber attitude due to the length of his deployment. Both actors portray their characters from the 1910s accurately all the way from costume to quirks to their speech and language. Their sure fire urgency and devotion to save a loved one creates a connection between the audience and the film, keeping viewers from straying to the bathroom or refilling their popcorn.
In other words, “1917”’s cinematography was nothing short of brilliant. First and foremost, renowned cinematographer, Roger Deakins’, mark of originality stemmed from the seemingly continuous shot that followed the protagonists throughout the film. In an interview with Insider, Deakins revealed Mendes had camera crews scrambling after the actors, filming, as they ran, crawled, trudged, fought and even so when one of the actors had to jump off a stone bridge. One set in particular is the scorched and crumbling French town that had been caught in the wake of Germans moving their lines across the countryside. The natural light and landscape of the buildings and alleyways only made the story more realistic and as a result, made watching the film more enjoyable.
Overall, the plot was simplistically elegant and easy to understand. Each scene introduced a new, thrilling, and dangerous obstacle that forced the two soldiers to overcome their fears. The spine-chilling intensity of their mission heightens just when the unexpected occurs, and the soldiers are forced to make a life-altering decision. Yet despite the film’s action-packed twists, Mendes does an incredible job advancing the plot and preventing any confusion or obstruction from the task at hand which is to deliver that letter.
“1917” is a World War I masterpiece for mature audiences looking to witness acts of bravery and gumption. The film is rated R and does itself justice considering graphic imagery, language and usage of guns and explosives throughout the film. Mendes, Deakins, cast, and crew all truly outdid themselves accurately depicting a historically brutal time in history, while simultaneously displaying the beauty of human devotion to what little good remained in the world.