Movie Review: 1917 (2020)

1917 (dir. Sam Mendes, 2020) – Two soldiers are assigned on a mission against time to deliver a message that will stop their army from walking into a fatal trap.

4/5

War is hell, and 1917 takes no time to spiral into the centre of the inferno. An unbroken take soon fences us in with Lance Corporal Schofield (George McKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) in their race against time into no man’s land.

They look for cover, disoriented and exposed in the open. Just minutes ago, they had been idle on the field awaiting orders that never came. Now, they are within kill shot of unseen enemies, armed with a weapon each and no means of communications.

They have no reinforcement, but each other. The only refuge they have is in shallow trenches, strewn with bodies, their rot wafting through the stale air. All they can do is keep running, all to deliver an urgent message that could save 1,600 soldiers, including Blake’s own brother.

1917
“I said, it’s worth a shot.”

What follows is a bold cinematic experiment that truly understands the purpose of a long take. Atonement has done the same before stunningly on the sands of Dunkirk. Each bullet, movement, and sound had flowed all in fluid motion, as though we were thrown right into the action.

1917 is just as riveting an experience in all of its two hours. The choreographed warfare is beautiful to watch unfold against Thomas Newman’s gorgeous score. Its interspersing quietude stands out as absorbing moments of reflection. Above all, just two lads carry the massive film, invoking empathy in how incredibly real their characters feel.

Even so, the emotional aspect could not measure up to similar war films that delved deeper into their characters. The narrative of 1917 contrastingly begins and ends with a singular mission, its soldiers defined with stories gleaned from hints or a line. What means to be emotive is weakened in impact, because of how little we know of them beyond their names and that they had family.

Stranger still were the A-lister cameos, strategically scattered across the chapters. What is fun at first subsequently start to distract, a constant reminder that what we are watching, is cinema.

1917
“I think you might be in the wrong movie.”

This complete antithesis to what the tracking shot aims to achieve, ends up with a film that feels hollow in its core. Only upon historical context and what we know of the battlefield can we feel the aching ounce of every soldier’s suffering.

What it lacks in narrative however, 1917 makes up for in its technical feats. Visually, it is a unique masterwork of mad ambition. The number of breathtaking shots are countless, displaying the sheer thought and innumerable rehearsals that went into each. The result is lavish. In his grand experiment, Sam Mendes has crafted a most visceral experience that elevates the art of cinema to new heights.


What 1917 accomplishes cinematically, makes any gripes with its thin narrative inconsequential.

12 thoughts on “Movie Review: 1917 (2020)”

  1. Thanks for the thorough review. I wondered how they wouldn’t keep this one from being shallow in plot, considering the way it was filmed. While it does seem to be a minor problem with the movie, it sounds like overall it is a hit. It’s on my must-see list for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Tony! I reckon the plot’s depth might have been an inevitable sacrifice in this case. Nevertheless, the film is still well worth the time. I’m also quite keen on how the long shot may translate into other genres. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Very interesting thought! First movie that came to my mind was Falling Down (Michael Douglas), followed by The Commuter (Liam Neeson). Something in that genre, action I guess, might be good, but not just any action movie. Needs to be one where the train ride, day, whatever progresses, and be concise enough to fit it into 90 minutes.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Haha! When I saw Andrew Scott, then Cumberbatch, my weird mind kept wondering if Moriarty and Sherlock may meet in the middle and start a war of their own. 😂

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  2. Interesting comments about the core feeling hollow. I saw it as more of a consequence of the non-stop pace arising out of the one-take approach. We never get to know either protagonist because there’s just no time to breathe!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose the story is a necessary trade-off in favour of pace, and it would be prolly unfair to compare such an experience to the likes of Platoon and Saving Private Ryan. Despite its limitations, I’m still thrilled that someone got the chance to experiment with this technique!

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