My first cinema visit of 2020 has been 1917, directed by Sam Mendes. Beginning on 6th April 1917 in WW1 France, we follow British soldiers Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) as they are given an urgent assignment: a nearby battalion is preparing to attack the Germans, unaware that the enemy is only feigning a retreat, and that they will be massacred unless the attack is called off. Instructed to deliver the orders by dawn the next day, Schofield and Blake begin their race against time across a war-torn landscape where no place is safe.
The film is cleverly put together to look like one continuous shot all the way through. We open with Schofield and Blake dozing at the edge of a seemingly peaceful field, then the camera follows them as they get up and walk through their crowded camp and the tight squeeze of the trenches. Aside from one time skip due to unconsciousness, the whole film plays out this way, in real time. This has the effect of making the whole film feel more “real” and engaging, as we literally follow the protagonists through every step and explore the environment with them. And it’s never boring, even at times when their lives aren’t in immediate danger.
Scenes of tension are mixed together perfectly with quieter, safer moments. The latter serve as a relief from the former, which can become truly unbearable, helped by the excellent orchestral score by Thomas Newman; even when there don’t appear to be any German soldiers around, you’re just waiting for something bad to happen as the ominous music builds, but with no more idea where danger will come from than the characters. The acting is excellent all round, with George MacKay clearly portraying Schofield’s physical and mental exhaustion as he goes through hell to complete the mission, and the extras helping to make everything feel real. This is also helped by how well the settings are presented: the trenches and battlegrounds are appropriately horrifying, with wreckage, rats and abandoned corpses all around. Small details, like graffiti and a family photo in an empty German medical ward, say an awful lot.
There really is nothing to fault about 1917. The style, the atmosphere, the tension, the acting, the music and the cinematography are all top-notch – this is a must-see. Rating: 5/5!