Sometimes films have trailers that absolutely leave your jaw on the floor, and Sam Mendes's 1917 was one of them. The instantly iconic shot of George MacKay's Will Schofield running for his life with chaos erupting around him hooked me with ease. I was hungry for a film that would live up to that tease. And, thankfully, I found 1917 to be incredibly enthralling. I don’t gravitate toward war films (even going to so far as to declare my being “done” with them), but this really pierced through those confines into that category of “human spirit” stories. That’s what it comes down to. This is a small scale story about human beings pushing themselves to make it to the next day. To chip away at colossal challenges. Its intimacy contrasts with the grand sense of dread permeating even the smallest obstacles in the journey.
Sam Mendes conveyed the quiet importance with visceral & captivating direction. He crafts such a tense story. He really does have such a command of his work, never losing himself to his ambitions. And the cinematography is just out of this world. The incomparable Roger Deakins is firing on all cylinders, beautifully executing the “one shot” device (even when it’s possible to notice the tricks and breaks). So many of the shots are just instant classics, with some moments being downright mesmerizing.
And last but certainly not least are our two leads: Both George MacKay & Dean-Charles Chapman carry this quest with powerful performances. Watching them persist through this often quiet hellscape is gut wrenching at times. Also, having all of these fan favorite actors peppered throughout the film in leadership roles was really effective. The momentary breaks in the action serve as opportunities to highlight their great supporting performances.
Despite the successes of the piece, I think it is somewhat unbalanced, with some lulls that I think go on too long. It lost me occasionally. I hate the phrase “trim the fat,” especially for such an ambitious film, but it’s kinda the wording that came to mind (for lack of anything better). There are some quiet periods in the second and third acts that could have taken it to the level of fully exhilarating, but instead I think it leans too far into atmosphere rather than character. But it’s still great. Ultimately, we get what we need from our heroes.
I wouldn't say 1917 ranks in my favorite few 2019 releases, but it’s a treat. My favorite war film in a long time. The direction & cinematography are the true stars. This is a filmmaking showcase type film. It's the kind of piece that deepens your appreciation for the art form. I definitely recommend checking it out.