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1917 Review: Sam Mendes’ Oscar contender takes viewers into the trenches of World War I

1917 Review
Sam Mendes created the visually epic World War I movie 1917. Pic credit: Universal

Sam Mendes is back in contention for an Oscar thanks to his creatively inventive World War I movie, 1917. However, in a year with Joker and Uncut Gems, it looks like this year’s Oscar contenders are as polarizing as they are brilliant.

1917 is no different.

The movie was released on a limited basis in December for awards purposes but did not hit theaters until January 10. It is now there for everyone to see and it seems people are split on whether it is a breathtaking movie about the horrors of war or an amazingly shot movie with little substance.

Honestly, it all comes down to what a person comes into the movie thinking about wars and filmmaking in general.

Mendes took the interesting idea of turning this story, which was one of the many that his grandfather told him about World War I, and shot the film to make it look like one long continuous shot. Of course, there are cuts, but they are hidden well and the movie never lets up until the breathtaking conclusion.

Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) are brought in to see General Erinmore (Colin Firth) who has a mission for them.

The soldiers are planning an attack on the Germans, but it is an ambush. If the soldiers go ahead with the attack, over 1,600 soldiers will die. There is no way to communicate with them and Blake and Schofield are chosen to hand-deliver the message.

The problem is that the journey there is through enemy territory and these two are heading to complete this mission alone. There is also something personal here, as one of the soldiers that would die is Blake’s older brother, meaning he wastes no time in setting out into enemy fire.

Chapman and MacKay are great in their roles, which is hard since the long takes mean limited cuts and these two actors had to pull off long runs, walks, and movements without making a mistake. The dialogue is minimal, so that helped limit mistakes.

There were also a few big-name appearances along the way. Along with Firth at the beginning, Mark Strong (Shazam) popped up to help at one point and it was none other than Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange, Sherlock) that was leading the attack at the end.

The movie was, at its core, one giant road trip movie with some of the most intense chase scenes you will ever see. Since there are no rapid-fire cuts when a gunfight erupts, you are stuck with Blake or Schofield, living the action through their eyes as the bullets whiz by.

This builds in a sense of danger and really shows the horrors of trench warfare. Steven Spielberg did it better with Saving Private Ryan, but that masterpiece does not discount what Mendes accomplishes here.

While some claim there is no real story, the fact is that the story of this movie — and the only one that matters — is that war sucks and we see it from the point of view of two young soldiers who just want to stay alive and help others.

See this on the big screen. It is well worth the price of admission.

1917 is currently playing in theaters nationwide.

Shawn S. Lealos has been a freelance writer for 25 years, starting with magazines and newspapers before moving to the internet. He has been published... read more
Shawn S. Lealos

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