1917 (2019) Review: A Devastatingly Beautiful Representation of War
‘Successful war films are usually those with a backstory of the soldiers. Conversations amongst soldiers and the despair on their faces as they see a corpse of someone they just spoke to a few minutes before the hours of waiting and watching turn into an intense burst of action. We get that here too, but not in the usual way. 1917 (2019) directed by Sam Mendes has quite a simple story. When told to someone it would not motivate them to invest 2 hours of their time and watch it.
The story in one line is quite bland, but the entire film is about the lance corporals and their mission….Cross into no man’s land and go right to the front where the British have planned an attack on retreating German forces and deliver a message calling off the attack. Interesting? Yes? No? Maybe? Why is it so great?
Similar to 1917 (2019): Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk
Well, what makes 1917 (2019) great is that it is edited to make it seem like one long take right from the time corporal Blake is roused from a nap and asked to pick a man to accompany him. “Don’t dawdle,” is the stentorian shout given by their commanding officer. They don’t and neither does the film.
‘1917’ set on April 6th 1917 is an attack on the senses. The film transports us to the scene as the invisible passengers who are carted along the arduous journey along with Corporals Blake and Schofield. The intensity doesn’t let up for a single second. It gives us the sight of men in the trenches as they wait for battle or stare aimlessly into space like men scarred by the devastation. We see corpses rotting, charred land and the devastating horrors of war.
At a point in the film where I felt as though this is seeming like a cakewalk for our protagonist… the action picks up and maintains its tempo throughout the latter half of the film. These scenes’ illumination, combined with fluid camera movements and a background score made me fall in love with the technical brilliance of 1917 (2019).
Roger Deakins’ cinematography is exquisite. He presents us with images that you would call beautiful. And when combined Thomas Newman’s background score it results in a goosebump-inducing experience for the audience.
Deakins brilliantly captures the minutest of details which makes everything seem that much more real. The scenes are glorious to look at but he even captures the aftermath, thereby reminding us that war is not glorious. The production design team’s work is commendable here in enhancing this aspect. Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns script has a lovely section about the importance of medals and their real worth.
Similar to 1917 (2019): Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1957)
1917 (2019) doesn’t forget the combatants of the war and even remembers to represent sections of society from places they have colonized. It’s quite perplexing as to why Indians are genetically identified as ‘turban wearers.’ It’s good that there wasn’t an atrocious accent attached to the character for his limited screen time.
Contrary to the usual notions that the film doesn’t have a big-name cast… well, it does but Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch play supporting roles which are all under 5 minutes.
Scott has lines that are amusing as A. That would ideally be the apropos reaction and B. It echoed my sentiments after hearing the mission allocated to lance corporals Tom Blake and William Schofield.
Cumberbatch plays his role to perfection. Can’t say anything more for the risk of a spoiler. Richard Madden seems to get characters where he gets bad news quite often and one can see the effects of war in his scene as well. It doesn’t do well to dwell on what’s happened is something similar to what a commanding officer tells Corporal Schofield. They can’t, but the audience certainly can as the visuals of war will not leave them easily.
Dean Charles-Chapman (Tommen Baratheon from Game of Thrones) plays Tom Blake. His character is one who reminds the audience that despite war there is humanity. He has a tendency to think with his heart rather than his head. The level headedness is provided by Schofield’s George Mackay who anchors a large part of the film.
Highly Recommended: 10 Other Great War Movies You Should Watch
‘1917’ has a few continuity errors. Schofield’s uniform seems as though it is fresh from the laundry in some scenes after he wades through muck and before he leaps into a river. But his boots remain with traces of the dried mud. At one point the arrival of soldiers seemed so sudden and led me to question the speed of their arrival.
We usually hear the line of cinematic experience spouted quite so often whilst watching a film. Quite often what we get are dreary dramas that could have been watched at home (unpopular opinion). But if you hear it for this film, it has weight and its usage is apropos. Experience this journey against time unfold on the big screen. You will not regret it. It’s a technical wonder. No one can accuse this of being amongst the final 9 at the Oscars merely due to the Academy’s love for war films. 1917 (2019) is outstanding and one hopes that lack of recognition by the actors’ branch isn’t what costs the film at the Oscars.