‘I hoped today would be a good day. Hope is a dangerous thing…’
As insensitive as it is to say, there is nothing as cinematic as war. Band of Brothers is probably the single greatest achievement in the history of television and Saving Private Ryan is in the conversation too, in terms of cinema. This may seem crass, but put simply, war sells. That doesn’t mean that a successful war film need be something to be ashamed of. Indeed, when done right, they are perhaps the most effective way of ensuring remembrance, particularly among the younger generation. And with 1917, it’s difficult to imagine how master director Sam Mendes could have made something better than this. We are talking about an instant classic. A masterpiece.
Fate conspires against Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) when they are arbitrarily chosen to deliver a vital message across enemy lines. With hundreds of lives at stake and a strict deadline, the odds are against the two young soldiers. As they so often were in that terrible war.
1917 is such an action packed and emotionally eviscerating film that it’s difficult to know where to start. Chapman and MacKay put in an extraordinary pair of performances, an astonishing feat in acting and one that had me on the edge of my seat throughout. Mendes’ decision to have the film play out in one long tracking shot means that you are right there with Blake and Schofield all the way, almost like a silent partner willing them on. The result of this immersion into their mission is a feeling of constant dread and terror – the closest most of us will ever get to a warzone, thankfully. I haven’t been this invested in any kind of film or TV show in a long, long time.
Schofield perfectly captures the dichotomy of life on the frontlines as being anonymous, impersonal and isolating juxtaposing with the brotherhood and companionship that was wrought in blood and anguish on the battlefields. War is a mess of contradictions. A wasteland of hope and yet a place where bonds of steel are forged. 1917 captures the grim realities of war in all its terrible beauty, and bottles it in a way that feels both unique and yet utterly timeless.
Much has been made of the ‘one long shot’ technique used to infer that 1917 is happening in real time, and while it is an incredible technical achievement, it shouldn’t detract from the human aspect of this story. At its essence, this is a simple fable. A morality tale about the power of perseverance and the unsung bravery of thousands of men that never came home. This is a film that shows us what cinema can truly be.
1917 exposes the brutal truth about war. It’s lonely, it’s mundane and it’s ultimately futile. But out of that loneliness comes brotherhood, out of that mundanity comes wisdom, and futility only makes sacrifice more tragic, more heroic.
Throw every Oscar going at this movie. You won’t see a better one this year.