“1917” was directed by Sam Mendes and stars George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman, and it takes place in Northern France during WW1. It follows two inexperienced soldiers who are given an order to warn an ally battalion to call off an attack against the Germans in order to save 1,600 men. An important thing to mention is that this movie was shot to look like one continuous take without any cuts.
To give some background information, this film is actually based on a true story Alfred Mendes, a WW1 veteran told his grandson, Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty). In an interview with extratv, Sam Mendes talked about the inspiration for the film, stating, “It  was inspired by my grandfather who fought in the First World War and he told us stories when I was very little… they weren’t really stories of heroism particularly. They were stories of luck and chance and how lucky he was to have survived.”
One of the reasons this movie is fantastic is the direction of Sam Mendes. It was crystal clear that he spent months planning the timing of the sequences with the production staff in his personal project. It is an extremely deep film and he balanced the tone and themes very well with solid work behind the camera.
The writing was another solid part of the film, but the script still had a few issues. The script does an adequate job of making the viewer feel sympathetic for the main lead, Schoefeld despite the fact we know almost nothing about him, and much of that is due to the excellent acting from George Mackay, who plays that character.
However, the other lead, Blake (played by Dean-Charles Chapman) was annoying at times and often got on my nerves. The point of his character is that he is young and foolish, but the writers go too deeply into that element. In many parts of the movie he’ll make Schofield suffer from his mistakes, an example being when Blake jumps into a ditch next to Schofield, knocking Schofield into an open wound of a corpse.
The acting on display here is brilliant. Mackay is almost Oscar worthy in his nuanced role full of both anguish and compassion. He shows the intense adrenaline within his character without saying a word whenever he is running, hiding, or jumping. Chapman is also phenomenal here, despite the flaws of his character. Both of these actors have chemistry on screen and feel like they could be friends in real life, which is good because it doesn’t take the viewer out of the experience.
There are also many unique cameos in the movie, like Colin Firth as General Erinmore and Daniel Mays as Sergeant Sanders. All the cameo performances are pretty great despite the limited time they’re given on screen, and their characters fit with the realism and tone of the film.
A problem I have with the film is that I didn’t care about the 1600 men in danger. They felt like movie extras, in that none of them had any personality or quirks to them. The fact that the viewer never got the chance to get close to them on an emotional level made the peril they were in feel a little less terrifying. It didn’t take me out of the movie in any significant way, but I would’ve liked to be more concerned and worried for them when they were in danger later on in the movie.
However, the best aspect of this movie is the cinematography by Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption, Skyfall, Blade Runner 2049). WOW. In my opinion, he is the greatest cinematographer of all time, and he definitely proves his talent here in what is possibly his best work. Obviously making the one take style of the film look legitimate, but even the camera angles alone are beautiful. The camera is always moving, so he is increasing the intensity by using that method, and the effort put in here is astounding.
Overall, this movie is a technical masterpiece. You don’t have to be a film auteur to adore this movie’s accomplishments. While the one take shooting style has been done before in movies like “Birdman” or “Rope”, it has never been done in such an invigorating and immersive way. The directing is brilliant, the acting is powerful, and the story is investing. There are some characterization issues, but they are very minor for the most part. I promise viewers who plan to see this movie will be transported into the warzone for an exciting but terrifying experience.