The realities of war are never starker than when we pierce into one of its thousands of true stories—bringing it all to life. In the newly released film “1917,” Director Sam Mendes delves into (what might be a composite of stories) told by his grandfather, Lance Corporal Alfred H. Mendes / 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps—which we learned about as a final dedication at the end of the film. It is possible that Director Mendes’ proximity to the story itself fueled the approach—giving the audience an immersive front seat look at what appeared like a continuous two-hour unbroken shot, expertly executed by cinematographer Roger Deakins (“Skyfall”, “Revolutionary Road”).
The story opens at the height of the First World War, as two young soldiers, Schofield (Captain fantastic’s George MacKay) and Blake (Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman) are given a seemingly impossible mission. In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers—Blake’s brother being among them.
Throughout the film, we follow the young soldiers as they face the horrors of war through barren fields, booby-trapped bunkers, muddy ditches and trenches filled with dead bodies as we palatably experience (in what feels like real-time), the tension and distress experienced by the young soldiers making their way against the odds.
While cameos by fan-favorites like Benedict Cumberbatch and Richard Madden (Game of Thrones) are generally welcomed—here, they are rendered as needless distractions—panning us away from the richness and somber dignity of the film.
In a time when most films resort to splashy heroes, big comebacks and larger than life endings, 1917 reminds us of the beauty and nobility of a job well done and the quiet dignity of self-sacrifice.
“1917” Open January 10th.