1917 ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
Film director Sam Mendes hit it big twenty years ago with American Beauty (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor Oscars). He has hit it big again with his latest directorial effort, 1917, a war drama set in France in World War I.
1917 is a simple story with a simple premise. Two young British soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield—who would rather be anyplace else other than fighting a war—are given an urgent assignment by their commanding officer. They must cross enemy territory to deliver a message of the utmost importance. Two battalions (1600 men) of English soldiers are being tricked by the Germans. These 1600 men and their commanders believe they are going to engage with the enemy, but the truth is they are being tricked and led into a slaughter. The message the two young British soldiers carry to the two battalions is that they are to “stand down” and don’t go on with the battle as planned.
Time is of the essence. If Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield don’t deliver their message in time, the results will be disastrous. Lance Corporal Blake is told at the outset that his own brother is among the 1600 English soldiers, so he has an additional reason for wanting to succeed.
The odds are against Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield making their way across enemy territory without being shot or captured. What they see and experience over the next two hours is what we (the audience) sees: endless mud, foxholes, dead bodies of men and animals, flies, stench, rats, barbed wire, gray skies. It’s a story told in “real time,” meaning that the two-hour runtime of the movie is how much time elapses in the story. We (the viewers) see it as it happens. The camera movement is so fluid that we are hardly aware of any edits. It’s an amazing two hours of filmmaking.
Lance Corporal Blake doesn’t make it. He’s stabbed, ironically, by a downed German pilot whose life they save by pulling him out of his burning aircraft, and bleeds to death. Lance Corporal Schofield must carry on alone. He is the “one against many,” “the last man standing.”
There is much to admire in 1917, including its sense of realism and its stirring music score by Thomas Newman. It’s a movie that pushes the boundaries of art. I can’t wait to see it again.
Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp