DVDizzy.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Cover Art | Search This Site

1917 Movie Review

1917 (2019) movie poster 1917

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2019 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Sam Mendes / Writers: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

Cast: George MacKay (Lance Corporal Schofield), Dean-Charles Chapman (Lance Corporal Blake), Mark Strong (Captain Smith), Andrew Scott (Lieutenant Leslie), Richard Madden (Lieutenant Joseph Blake), Claire Duburcq (Lauri), Daniel Mays (Sergeant Sanders), Adrian Scarborough (Major Hepburn), Colin Firth (General Erinmore), Benedict Cumberbatch (Colonel Mackenzie)


As a society, we've moved far away from the days when we needed a war movie to inform and shock us. Countless war movies, many of them great, have shown us the horrors of war and for most of us, that's all the war we need. Fortunately, 1917 is not just another one of those kinds of films.
As you can tell from the title, it's not dramatizing Hollywood's most filmed war, World War II, or the more recent and affecting wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq. No, 1917 is set over the course of two days during what was called The Great War and it has no interest in telling the full story of that global conflict and its historical significance.

Instead, 1917, a film by director Sam Mendes, who picks up his first ever writing credit on a screenplay co-penned by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Showtime's "Penny Dreadful"), tells the story of two young British soldiers who are assigned a spontaneous, perilous mission to journey to the German front so that they can call off what is sure to be a doomed attack on their enemy.

Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) have no idea what they're getting into when they are called in for a visit with their commanding officer (Colin Firth). Weary of the war that's occupied them for years and hungry for a good meal, the two friends only hope that their officer's intelligence is accurate and that the Germans have moved on. In fact, they have, but even just the journey to find that out is fraught with danger and uncertainty, as our protagonists climb and crawl in and out of trenches, passing dozens if not hundreds of corpses both human and animal (not to mention the large, living bodies of many rats scurrying about).

In "1917", two young British Lance Corporals (Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) are given the dangerous task of delivering an important message.

Though evacuated, the Germans' elaborate underground quarters have been booby trapped and one of the two Brits endures near-fatal damage. They remain miles away from their destination and almost completely uncertain of its effectiveness. We are along for this increasingly harrowing trek, which feels all the more immediate because Mendes ambitiously presents it as one long, uninterrupted take.

Recalling Alejandro G. Iñárritu's Birdman (and Alfred Hitchock's Rope long before that), Mendes' seemingly unedited approach is, depending on your point of view, a colossal awards-baiting gimmick or an extraordinary technical feat which raises the bar for cinema. In fact, it's a little of both of those things. There's no way to make a movie that looks like one continuous take in the fashion that Mendes has without calling attention to that design. Even if you're not the kind of viewer who gives much thought to technique, you're sure to recognize even subconsciously that Mendes and his esteemed cinematographer Roger Deakins are not changing lenses and patching anything together. Of course, just like Birdman (and, very obviously, Rope) they are patching things together, albeit in a spectacularly seamless fashion.

One cannot even begin to imagine how Mendes and Deakins have pulled this off, with the camera remaining nimble and mobile throughout. Some of it must be post-production magic, but it sure seems like the crew shot this over the course of two perfectly overcast days in which everything is somehow perfectly composed, lit, and executed and camera operator Pete Cavaciuti somehow never casts a shadow or reflection.

Schofield (George MacKay) hangs onto a log in Sam Mendes' single-shot World War I drama "1917."

Film buffs will marvel at the ostentatious craftmanship, which unquestionably dwarves the epic Oscar-worthy achievements of Iñárritu and Emmanuel Lubezki. Fortunately, they do not come at the expense of a compelling narrative.
Mendes made the leap from the British stage to film, winning the Best Director Oscar on his debut, 1999's Best Picture winner American Beauty. In the twenty years since, he has evolved from that artful, contemporary suburban dark comedy into a masterful visual storyteller. His comfort with action led to him sticking with James Bond for multiple films, his first of which became the modern high mark of the 007 franchise in the $1.1 billion-grossing Skyfall.

Mendes has not really been in the Oscar conversation since his debut, although his second film, 2002's Road to Perdition, was even better than his first. Even when it looked like Mendes was sure to be there on the Oscar red carpet alongside huge stars including his then-wife Kate Winslet on Revolutionary Road (2008), her stately reunion with Titanic co-star Leonardo DiCaprio, a follow-up directing nomination from the Academy never came to fruition.

That will undoubtedly change with 1917, a force to be reckoned with in most technical categories (except possibly editing, its seamlessness working against it just as Birdman's did) that is probably too powerful in general (and too appealing to the Academy's large British constituency) to exclude from the big Best Picture and Director races.

It's natural to receive 1917 with some healthy skepticism. It's a big $100 million studio war movie opening on Christmas Day with pedigreed actors like Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, and Richard Madden in tow. Big yawn, right? But Mendes seems to anticipate such a fatigued, closed-minded attitude and is prepared to disarm it with his surprisingly focused, visceral, and unfamiliar take on a war that in Hollywood has lived in the shadow of its bigger, more dramatic sequel ever since Pearl Harbor.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: A Hidden LifeUncut GemsJumanji: The Next Level
Directed by Sam Mendes: Revolutionary RoadSpectre
World War I Dramas: War HorseThe Big ParadePaths of GloryPorco Rosso

DVDizzy.com | DVD and Blu-ray Reviews | New and Upcoming DVD & Blu-ray Schedule | Upcoming Cover Art | Search This Site

DVDizzy.com Top Stories:

Reviewed December 8, 2019 / Published January 6, 2019.

Text copyright 2019 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2019 Universal, DreamWorks Pictures, Reliance Entertainment, New Republic Pictures, Neal Street, and Mogambo.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.