Release: (Limited) December 4, 2019 (Wide) January 10, 2019
Director: Sam Mendes
This is a very interesting film, a war movie that releases in 2019 but doesn’t get a wide release until the second week of 2020. Conversations around the release of this was more or less “Oh, it’s another war movie with a twist” and left it at that. Once it came out though everything changed as those who did see it realized it was much more. A film not about the war itself, but of the mission two young soldiers undertake to save the lives of thousands who would march to their death. I left the theater blown away by what I had seen and it takes the top spot as my favorite movie of 2019.
What most know about 1917 is that it is a “long shot film” where the cinematography makes it seem as though the footage never cuts, one seamless shot throughout the movie. If anyone has seen 2014’s Birdman with Micheal Keaton than you would know this style. And Sam Mendes truly captures that style beautifully as though the camera itself is a character. It moves around our characters and shows us unique angles from either the perspective of us looking as the characters or to what they are about to witness. Several shots baffle me to this day, how the camera was able to move in that space so effortlessly. The shots are stunning, vibrant and shocking at times. I did gasp several times from sudden moments that could only be captured in war.
I also love these soldiers that you follow. Two men, Schofield and Blake, are given an incredible task to warn an advancing front of a trap they are being led into. Among those in the garrison is Blake’s older brother, so immediately the tension is high for these two to not only complete their mission but to do it quickly before it is too late. Since we never leave their side, we slowly learn more about each one through the down time, and when that down time is interrupted its intense. You want them to succeed just as much as they do, which allows for gripping storytelling and near constant on-the-edge of your seat action.
It’s not a perfect film, though that could be said for any movie. One aspect I couldn’t unsee is, since this isn’t actually one continuous shot, you can see the change in some of the characters clothing. I don’t want to spoil anything, just several moments you know our heroes have gone through an area that should leave their uniforms covered in multiple different stains or debris, but almost in the next scene their outfits don’t show any of the aftermath. It’s noticeable enough to catch my eye, but when in that next scene something captivates you either through dialogue or from the sheer exquisite camera work that you can easily forgive the slight error.
1917 is one of the most fun in a theater I’ve had all year. An incredible experience from start to finish, with palpable tension, excellent characters, and striking visuals. This is much more than just “another war movie.” A level of passion for the story being told seeps through every second of film. Sam Mendes has created a truly unique movie, and if you have the change you should also see what two young men had to endure to save brothers in arms during the year 1917.