Sam Mendes’ 1917 follows two young soldiers on a dangerous mission during WWI. In the film, Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are tasked with warning a British battalion that they are walking into a trap set by the German army. If they fail, 1,600 lives will be lost, including Blake’s brother (Richard Madden). The two men have to make it through enemy territory to the front line with very little time to spare.
The film was shot and edited to look like one long continuous take. This technique makes everything feel more contained and personal, as if you are alongside Schofield and Blake as they charge into claustrophobic spaces, crawl under barbed-wire, and dodge bullets. Mendes, who also co-wrote the screenplay, creates a nerve-wracking narrative with few breaks in the tension. There’s also the stunning cinematography from Roger Deakins, literally getting the viewer in trenches. In addition, MacKay and Chapman expertly convey the bravery and terror, along with a host of other emotions, that their characters are experiencing.
Mendes has said that he intended 1917 to be more of a thriller and less of a conventional war movie. He succeeds. Yes, history buffs will probably enjoy it, but this isn’t a stuffy boring story. It’s a compelling film that immerses you in these men’s lives and their journey.