Sam Mendes' 1917 Movie Review: A Pulse-Pounding War Movie With Smart, Tight Focus

Image by Bruce Mewett from Pixabay

It's been awhile since I have seen a movie like 1917, directed by Sam Mendes. Throughout, viewers follow a chosen pair of character with a mission from point A to point B during World War I. Although there are a host of equally interesting events and people the story could have included, this movie and this story follows only British soldier Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) as they fulfill orders to deliver a message instructing a Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment to call of a planned attack on the Germans. In order to deliver the message, they will have to travel through abandoned German territory, hoping there are no enemy stragglers along the way.

There are no back stories. We know little to nothing about the pair. There is only the present. Only the mission. Here and now. Viewers have the luxury of a very uncomplicated storyline. But the story is far from boring. Quiet scenes in a field bookend what is otherwise a continuous pulse-pounding journey with no reprieve.

Our heroes encounter a wide variety of horrors from rats to trip wire; from temporary blindness to touching dead rotted corpses. The camera often stays locked on the heroes, not letting us see what is coming next. We see Blake and Schofield and the immediate ground they walk upon. It creates for an unsettling suspense that works well for moving the story forward and keeping viewers involved.

While viewers face the horrors of war, there are moments of beauty. We see flares lighting up city ruins at night, a lone soldier sings mournfully to a company of men, and Schofield babbles verse poetry to a malnourished baby. The musical score by veteran Thomas Newman matches these moments perfectly.

Great care was also taken in creating the sets. Last year I saw Peter Jackson's brilliant documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, and the trenches were instantly recognizable as true to period from the details shared in that project.

Mendes makes calculated moves in the screenplay to keep viewers along for this ride and rooting for the characters, even at a crucial moment that could have derailed the whole thing. I highly recommend 1917. It will appeal to a wide variety of movie tastes from those who love war stories, adrenaline rushes, World War I history, and 24 hour stories. And those who get wowed by technical merit will find much ogle at, wondering how they made what looks like one continuous take.