1917: A Masterpiece Achievement In Filmmaking

(center) George MacKay as Schofield in "1917," co-written and directed by Sam Mendes. Photo Credit: François Duhamel/Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures

To put it simply, Sam Mendes’ 1917 is a masterpiece achievement in filmmaking and without a doubt one of the best war films to ever be made.

Lance Corporals Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are on the biggest missions of their young lives.  Over 1,500 lives depend on their ability to finish the mission.  Without being able to do so, a countless number of British lives could be lost because of walking into a trap.  It’s for this reason that General Erinmore (Colin Firth) orders them to find Col. Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) of the 2nd Devons.

Even when it comes to walking through No Man’s Land, you never know what to expect.  For all we know, Blake and Schofield could easily be walking into trap.  We don’t know it for sure but because it’s a war, you can always expect something to go wrong.

This is a film that boasts a solid supporting cast.  To be fair, most of the stars have blink-and-miss-it cameos.  Mark Strong, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch are among them.  They give it their all despite the limited screen time.

Sam Mendes heard the war stories from his grandfather, who served as a messenger during World War I because of his height.  It’s in the spirit of those stories that we find ourselves watching 1917.  While certain aspects of the film may be fictional, they owe their roots to Lance Corporal Alfred H. Mendes.  If you’re able to watch in IMAX or Dolby Atmos, do so.  It’s going to offer moviegoers the best experience in viewing this film.  It isn’t just that the sound design is absolutely incredible but legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins is at the top of his game.

If there is any doubt about it, Roger Deakins is one of the greatest living cinematographers.  This is one of those films in with we’re following the soldiers the entire time.  The camera never leaves them.  It is as if we–the audience–are embedded right there with them.  This may be one of the best decisions by far.  We’re able to watch what’s happening through their eyes.  There are so many shots that speak to the technical marvels.  The moment that Schofield jumps into the river until after he surfaces following the waterfall is one of them.

On the editing front, Lee Smith does a marvelous job.  He’s able to keep the film running at a quick pace.  While the film runs close to two hours, it doesn’t feel that way at all.  Smith doesn’t cut a scene too early or too late.  In fact, he cuts the film in a way that us has seeing everything on one take.  The one-shot premise is one of the best ideas that Mendes brings to the film.  It leads to cinematic magic at its finest!  What makes this film even more impressive is that production didn’t even begin until April 2019!

Instead of shooting in France, the production does the next best thing by taking the fight to England.  It’s for the best of the film.  Shooting in France isn’t easy when the land is sacred and excavating would lead to more trouble in the long-term.

When all is said and done, 1917 becomes the greatest war film in theaters since Saving Private Ryan was released in 1998.

DIRECTOR:  Sam Mendes
SCREENWRITERS:  Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns
CAST:  George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, with Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch

Universal Pictures opens 1917 in theaters on December 25, 2019. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.