Movie Guru: ‘1917’ is actually as great as everyone says it is
Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language
Written by: Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Daniel Mays, Colin Firth, Pip Carter, Andrew Scott, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andy Apollo and more
Grade: Four stars out of four
People are popping off about “1917,” and it deserves all the hype it’s getting.
The movie, which recently won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Motion Picture, is an engrossing, visually stunning, heartbreaking look at war. It makes you feel like you’re in the middle of a battle the same way 2017’s “Dunkirk” did, but unlike “Dunkirk,” it lets you feel the emotions as well. Anchored by a fantastic performance from George MacKay, “1917” is a classic in the making.
The movie follows two soldiers stationed on the front lines during WWI. They’re assigned a dangerous mission by their superior officers. The mission must be completed on a tight deadline and plenty of lives are on the line. We’re with them on their journey, crossing through enemy territory and meeting other people caught in the war.
A lot of fuss has been made in the film media about how “1917” has been edited into a single shot, and it is a technically impressive feat. It also impacts the experience of watching the movie, giving it a restless quality that makes every moment feel tenser. Cuts give you a second to decompress, but “1917” mostly doesn’t want you to have a chance to catch your breath. The camera work adds its own magic, giving us a character’s-eye view of everything that’s happening.
There’s far more to the movie than just editing tricks, however. Director Sam Mendes has said the script is based on stories his veteran grandfather told his family about WWI, and you can feel that personal quality in everything that happens. They feel like moments someone actually lived through, and the movie is always careful to remind us of the people caught up in those moments. No matter how big or dramatic the spectacle, there’s always an emotional connection at the heart of it.
That’s emphasized by the performance of the two leading characters. George MacKay’s character is what makes the movie: an average soldier caught in nearly impossible circumstances. His performance is incredibly expressive, communicating a powerful range of emotions in even silent moments. Dean-Charles Chapman is great as well, a boisterous companion who still manages to find his own moments of depth.
Even with all that, they don’t skimp on the visuals. There’s a bombing scene that’s both breathtaking and horrifying at the same moment, especially since you almost never see the bombs. The battle scenes feel all consuming, while the quieter moments in nature feel impossibly still.
If you want a profound cinematic experience, watch “1917.” It will stay with you long after you leave the theater.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.