nineteen_seventeen_ver2STARS5It’s no secret that films set during the Second World War far outnumber ones about other wars.  Since 1998, the more well-known ones include Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, The Pianist, Letters from Iwo Jima, Fury, Hacksaw Ridge, Darkest Hour, and Dunkirk.  There are so many others.  My apologies if I missed your favorite.  But what about pictures concerning the Great War?  Some WWI movies rank among the greatest classics of all time: All Quiet on the Western Front, The Grand Illusion, Paths of Glory and Lawrence of Arabia.  I wouldn’t immediately include a movie that just came out in the same company.  Likewise, I would never describe a current release using the M-word*.  A certain amount of time must pass.   I’d say at least 10 years.  However, 1917 is a good candidate to be considered both of these things in 2029.

1917 is an epic about two British soldiers entrusted with a mission.  The story is based on an account told to director Sam Mendes by his paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes.  Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are two lance corporals that must deliver a message across enemy German territory to an Allied front line.  The British are preparing to launch an ambush but the problem is, it will lead to many many deaths on the side of the Allies.  The soldiers have a false sense of security.  The Germans are in fact ready for the British and therefore should not attack.  Blake and Schofield must convey an order to stand down.  Their journey is the movie.

1917 is filmed in one continuous shot.  When I first heard that, I regarded the decision to use this technique as a pretentious affectation.  Birdman did this rather famously in 2014.  No, cinematographer Roger Deakins didn’t really shoot without stopping.  If he had, filming would have only taken one hour and 59 minutes.  However, the narrative has pieced together that way and the approach is indeed a very intrinsic part of the story that lends the adventure an immersive quality.  I forgot it was filmed this way because  I was fully engrossed in the feature.  It is brilliantly shot and expertly staged.  The scenes are occasionally shot 360 degrees as it moves around the action and it brought me to the feeling that I was right there with them on this expedition.  There are stretches where I watched with held breath.  I didn’t feel as though I was watching a movie.  I was a solider on this mission with them.

This is, in fact, a good time for movies about World War I.  Peter Jackson’s gloriously spellbinding documentary They Shall Not Grow got a limited release at the tail end of 2018.  It too was magnificent but I wasn’t prepared for another tour de force.  1917 is an absolutely penetrating albeit manipulative achievement about courage.  Our two heroes travel through a landscape that invokes anxiety and fear on a scale of biblical proportions.  The chronicle is directed and produced by Sam Mendes with a screenplay he wrote withy Krysty Wilson-Cairns.  It features stellar cinematography from the aforementioned Roger Deakins and a rousing score by Thomas Newman that already feels iconic.  Together they combine to form this artistic success.  It’s horrific and beautiful, mesmerizing and immediate.  If cinema is an emotional experience — a portal that transports us to another time and place — then 1917 inspired the most visceral reaction of any picture I saw in 2019.  The majesty of it all blew me away.



*  “masterpiece”.


12 Responses to “1917”

  1. Hello Mark!

    Love your reviews for several years now. A friendly FYI that your email Subject doesn’t match the review title. I’m a proofreader, so yeah 🙂

    Best to you and yours in 2020! Going to view “Little Women” today. Thank you for the only really honest film reviews that matter.

    -Lisa Tisdale San Diego



  2. Whoa. The first 5-star review of the year, I do believe?


  3. This was almost like a horror movie. I was on the edge of my seat and was afraid of what might happen at any moment. The score was so awesome, I was mesmerized. Great great movie. 5 stars


  4. I saw a trailer for this earlier in the week and thought “I need to see this”. Glad to see it stood up!


    • 1917 is outstanding. It’s only in limited release now. Interested to see how this ultimately does in the U.S. and the U.K. when it goes wide. I hope people see it.


  5. GaryGreg828 Says:

    Based upon your, and a few other recommendations I went to see this today. I agree w/ your review; it really felt like you were there. I always say movies are something you should experience more than merely staring into a screen, and this was definitely an experience…

    I was totally shocked by the sequence w/ the german in the airplane and Blake; i actually didn’t see that coming, as I thought the two brits and the German on the mend may possibly bond, which i think is usually an interesting dynamic when enemies are forced together to get to know one another, and see if their differences are strengthened or dissolved. But this story took an entirely different, and more realistic approach…

    On a side note, it sucks for Todd Phillips not to win the Oscar for Best Director, as he definitely deserves it for Joker, but not over 1917; most years he would win it. But 1917 is a top film of the decade; but actually so is Joker. Two memorable classics come out at the tail end of the decade. Joquain should win Best Actor, though; I loved his performance, especially during the Late Show sequence. The Oscars will be interesting this year. 🙂


    • You think Sam Mendes is going to win Best Director? I’m still not sure right now. With 11 nominations, it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that Todd Phillips could win. Hollywood clearly loves that film (Joker).

      Liked by 1 person

      • GaryGreg828 Says:

        The Golden Globes are a good forecast what to expect from the Oscars; it’s possible Phillips could win, but I highly doubt it. I hope he does win, but I just don’t see how you can not give it to Mendes; can we have co-best director and co-best film this year? lol.


      • GaryGreg828 Says:

        Guess we were both wrong! lol. But it’s crazy they could consider giving it to any other director other than Mendes for 1917. If they want to give Parasite Best Picture is one thing, but not Best Director; that was a rip-off. Of course Bong is an extremely talented director, and I am not saying Mendes is an overall better director. I am just saying that 1917 was the superior directed film. Oh well, I think it’s safe to say both Mendes and Phillips’s careers will be okay. 🙂


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