A new sweeping war movie from Sam Mendes (who explored the genre in Jarhead) blends creativity and focus even if its technique might feel a tad gimmicky.
1917 stars Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones) and George MacKay (Captain Fantastic) and uses that continuous shot (like Birdman) to follow its characters on an intense mission on a broader scale. Discerning viewers may recall the likes of Atonement, Dunkirk and Saving Private Ryan in the visceral perils encountered on the battlefield (in this case World War I).
So Mendes, who collaborated with scribe Krysty Wilson-Cairns and ace lenser Roger Deakins (Skyfall), establishes an immediacy to a riveting journey across France strewn with bodies. Having striking musical accompaniment from Thomas Newman is also a big plus.
Chapman’s Blake and MacKay’s Schofield are retained for the austere assignment to block a possible massacre of 1600 soldiers — as an ambush is certain if the assault is okayed. Blake’s older brother is definitely in harm’s way if the unthinkable goes down.
The story and motif will be familiar to many as horror is lurking even if the plotting appears to lag on occasion. But, Mendes and Wilson-Cairns provide a sensitively drawn, haunting, immersive experience in an often trench-filled no-man’s land. Much of the eventful action includes briefer turns from quality English thespians, including Benedict Cumberbathch, Mark Strong, Colin Firth, Richard Madden and Andrew Scott.
The primary portrayals from Chapman and especially MacKay exhibit natural aplomb within all the fear and chaos as a German pilot will ever make a treacherous mission seemingly more impossible.
A bold technical feat 1917 is in its ambitious single undertaking, but in its grand schemes its logistics do not really diminish the wrenching drama which unfolds. An impressive visceral illustration that clocks in much sooner than others of its ilk the tracking cameras take the elemental to arguably the monumental.