What a difference a week can make. Last week, I saw probably the worst movie of 2020 and this week I get to see one of the best movies of 2019. You read that right 1917 was actually a movie that was released in 2019, December 2019. This is one of the intriguing parts of films in January. Audiences will be exposed to several good films in January because they had limited release in December so that they can be eligible for the Oscars. This is the case with 1917, in that it had a limited release in December and now we are able to see it now in mass release. Oh boy, this is quite the movie and one that I will take any day of the week over the traditional movies that studios tend to dump in January.
1917 tells the story in “real time” of two World War I British soldiers who are tasked with delivering a message to stop an attack by their countrymen into a German trap. To raise the stakes even more, one of the soldier’s brothers is a part of the attacking wave.
So, what do I mean by “real time”? We follow the soldiers’ step by step from the start of their journey in a farm field until they reach their final destination. Traditionally in most movies there are cuts in the movie for time or for perspective. A pretty common cut is when the camera focuses on the face of one speaker and then cuts to the face of the other speaker. There were no perceivable cuts in this movie. It feels like the film was done in just one take from start to finish. What this kind of film craft does for us the audience member is that it immerses us more into the film. Instead of just being an observer, we feel the weight of the scenes because we feel like we are in the middle of them. It was a pretty fresh experience for me in the theater and one I really enjoyed.
I know this is a camera gimmick and the best gimmick in the world is only as good as the story and the characters. Sam Mendes, the director and writer, does a great job of giving us characters we can relate to and feel three dimensional. In addition the plot holds our attention and is drama filled. If that name sounds familiar, Mendes has been the director for Skyfall, American Beauty, Spectre, Jar Head, and Road to Perdition to name a few of the movies he directed. His experience with capturing action movies really pays off for 1917. It is interesting to note that this is Mendes first screenplay. Prior to the movie I saw a little expose about him talking about this movie coming from the stories that his grandfather told him about the first World War. His grandfather must have been quite the story teller because I was sucked in from the first moment and mesmerized for the whole ride.
Overall, I would give this movie an A (A Great Movie). Go see this movie. Not many movies tell a story in “real time” and not many movies do it well. Using this perspective of “real time” it felt as an audience member that we were right with the characters. We were more than observing them, we were with them. This was a fresh feeling to have and one I really appreciated. Even though many people are talking about the interesting way that the movie is portrayed on screen, Sam Mendes doesn’t let the plot or the characters suffer. I was pleased how the characters were fleshed out and the plot was engaging from beginning to end. The unique way of filming was only enhanced because of these two important elements. If you want to see a well-crafted film, with compelling characters, a thriller plot, and a film that immerses you as the audience member into the action, then I would go this movie.
1917 is rated R for violence, disturbing images and language. This award-winning film was directed and written by Sam Mendes. 1917 stars Dean-Charles Chapman, George Mackay and Daniel Mays.