Director Sam Mendes’ film 1917 is a World War I film centered around the journey of two British corporals into “no man’s land” and later into enemy German territory on a mission to call off a British attack that has been ambushed. The movie manages to hit well on portraying the cruelty and destruction of World War I in a manner that many movies before it have done with World War II. It also experiments with a unique single-shot frame throughout the movie, which at times seemed to pay off and at other times did not.
1917 is certainly a film with strong narrative drama that other recent war movies such as Dunkirk may have lacked. For example, an important aspect of the journey of the corporals is that one corporal, Blake, knows that his brother is among the team whose planned attack has been ambushed, which puts his life at stake. At times I find that either too much drama can take away from the intended focus on war, and too little drama takes away the excitement from the film, and that a war movie’s director’s job is to find the balance. In this case, I find that the drama works well as it accurately displays the lack of humanity and harsh realities that are faced on a personal level in war.
The single shot that follows the characters throughout the movie was certainly a daring move. Technically speaking, it was executed well, as it exhibited the rapid escalation that can occur during a battle with as little interference as possible from Hollywood itself. It was also executed well in an artistic sense, with certain angles and pan-outs occurring in timely points of the film. However, at times I could not help but feel that this particular story could have been better told with more conventional shots. This is because there were several moving parts to the story at hand that could have been detailed to the audience, but all that was focused on was the journey of the British corporals.
With that in mind, 1917 is still an excellent film. I was pleased to see a well depicted World War I battle film in modern times, a sit is often forgotten compared to other wars in film. Mendes does an excellent job of conveying the brutality of the war through his techniques making this a fascinating watch.