Movie review: “1917” captures the horror of war

Heather Teague, Staff Writer

Sam Mendes’ film “1917” was filled with beautifully choreographed violence and dizzying rapidity at the center of this film. It follows two British soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield, on their quest to relay a potentially lifesaving stand-down message to a battalion of 1,600 men.

War I, provides only the amount of information necessary to understand the weight of the characters’ situation: a battalion, which includes Blake’s brother, is in danger because they have planned an attack based on the erroneous belief that they now have the upper hand against German forces, and these men will certainly die if Blake and Schofield fail to reach them in time.

The film focuses on the fact that any war is hell. Its straightforward storyline and simple dialogue are paired with gruesome images and complex shots, enhancing the overall viewing experience. The corpses of animals and people casually litter the screen. Low-level shots combined with long takes and stabilized camera tracking make it impossible to look away or fully reflect on these victims.

These technical tricks mimic the protagonists’ movements and bring audiences into their reality so that they come to the horrific realization that war, so riddled with death, robs people of even a moment’s grief when it is needed most.

This is all thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins, who also worked with Mendes on “Skyfall.” His dedication resulted in the film’s nearly perfect one-take illusion — an immersive cinematic technique that is magnified by the performances of the viewer’s two Mendes-assigned comrades.

George MacKay shines as Schofield, who has come to grasp the true insanity and materialism behind war yet demonstrates an admirable determination when he knows he is truly needed.

Schofield forms a skillful juxtaposition with DeanCharles Chapman’s youthful and eager Blake. The on-screen conversations between these two, which often mention other soldiers or hint at previous events in their own lives, are delivered so naturally that the viewer will feel like a third member on the mission.

While other brilliant actors are featured — such as Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Mackenzie, Colin Firth as General Erinmore and Andrew Scott as Lieutenant Leslie — they have very little screen time. Of course, the lack of well-knowns at any given moment arguably adds to the realism MacKay and Chapman offer. After all, these are just a couple of regular guys facing the many dangers of war.

“1917” is a spectacular film that showcases some of the best cinematography and acting of the last few years. It is a uniquely immersive spectacle that will make audiences forget they are sitting safely and soundly in their cushiony theater seats rather than shoving their way through the trenches of World War I.

Score: 5/5 stars