Staggering attention to detail with little CGI makes 1917 a unique film in today’s annals of warfare films.
With really very few main characters (Blake and Schofield), the story follows the lives of two runners, who have to cross no mans land and deliver a message to the commander of two battalions about to go over the line to certain death.
The two main characters tend to have a dreamy eyed innocence about them, you feel you want to shake them and wake them up and say ay one point “No don’t save the German Pilot, just shoot him!”
But it doesn’t work.
The horrors of the trenches are amply shown in the detailed corpses that fill the battle field. So many ways to express death. The journey across the battlefield as the two heroes make their way in an environment that is determined to kill them.
1917 is filmed through one “apparent” camera in one “apparent” take (cuts are cleverly hidden here and there, making the film appear almost seamless). We follow Blake and Schofield through trenches, war-torn landscapes, towns reduced to seemingly fingers reaching for the sky and scenes that seemed ripped right from medieval manuscripts depictions of hell.
Sam Mendes’ camerawork and storytelling (a story he gleamed from a despatch rider from World War One) both examplify the horrors of war and humanize those in it. While Blake and Schofield dominate the story, their sparse interactions with their fellow soldiers and civilians teach us that people can offer kindness and care in the middle of the worst possible conditions.
It’s not for the faint hearted and the end of the movie not certain at all. But close to the end of the journey when the goal is reached, you have a moment to catch your breath, before it dives back into a final message.