1917 – Movie Review

movie reviewIt makes me wonder why this film didn’t come out in 2017. You know, a perfect fit… a round 100 years. That pointless analysis aside, I often wonder why most of us gravitate towards war movies so much. Is it the battles, emotions, horrors? I guess it comes down to reminding us how bleak and hopeless the world can be. While early war movies tended to be more about the spectacle and heroics than the single person and the impact it all has on the soul or how a single person in that war machinery doesn’t make a big difference. In the past 40 years we started to look at this topic with more critical eyes. War is a beast. You can’t tame it. It’s unpredictable. While it brings out the courage in some of us, it turns other human beings into the worst creatures you can think of. That said, WW1 didn’t get much attention on the big screen yet. Paths of Glory (1957), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) come to mind. Both very strong movies. I hoped for the 100th anniversary of WW1 to get some movies that cover that war a little more closely. Nothing happened. Until now with 1917.

We follow Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay). Ordinary soldiers, just taking a break. Their well deserved break ends soon when they receive the order to cross dangerous territory to the front line and deliver an important order to stop a planned attack on the germans. Thousands will run into a trap if they fail. One of them is Blake’s older brother. So right there Blake has a special motivation to get the job done. We follow them through the trenches and on their journey through the field and the difficulties that the circumstances put on them.

The cinematography makes the audience discover the world along with the characters. They chose a very immersive way of putting us right into this world. By filming everything in the style of a single continuous shot. Of course they used every trick in the book to put in their cuts but it’s all pretty much hidden and invisible. Very long takes that require some fantastic acting and a lot of discipline, which both actors (and everyone else involved) deliver nicely. We get to see the horrors of that war and the immediate reaction of our characters. In fact, stylistically some sequences could actually be straight out of a horror movie. In times where it seems to be the easiest thing to deliver a message it’s a valuable shift of perspective to see how difficult it can be or how difficult is was only 100 years ago.

The film is not trying to be about the big battles with all the familiar noises of a battlefield. It’s not “Saving Private Ryan” and a comparison would be rather unfair I think. It’s a rather quiet film that focusses on the protagonists and how they deal with their task, their reactions, their fight for survival, emotions and how the whole sitation affects them. We follow them to a variety of locations and the camera work makes sure you notice everything they notice. There are a couple of situations and locations that almost make that world feel unreal. Which kind of works since I imagine war itself as a rather unreal experience. An experience I don’t want to make.

The overall experience worked great. The acting, photography, sound and music gel so well that you are right in that world and discover it with the characters in the film. It’s almost necessary to see this film on a big screen with good sound. Especially that one night sequence with it’s lighting, music and composition. Roger Deakins was the perfect director of photography for this film. It is an experience.

A 8.4/10 for me.

1917 on IMDb

Leave a Reply