A soldier charges alongside a trench, meandering through hundreds of countrymen running to their certain doom, but he doesn’t stop because his mission is to save their lives.
This scene in what might be 2019’s best film and assuredly one of the greatest movies of the 2010s is what makes “1917” so great. In most flicks, it would be the grand finale, this shot of a man who has been to hell and back, running to complete his godforsaken mission.
But, while that scene is close to the end of the film, it is not the grand finale because there is no grand finale. The whole movie is a grand finale. Each scene in this World War I thriller has the viewer on the edge of their seat from start to finish.
It is a masterclass of art. I might have a recency bias, but it is truly one of the greatest war movies ever done in a genre that is full of glorious cinematic treasures.
The plot I can give to you spoiler-free because it is a simple plot and it is outlined in the trailer. By the way, one of the main reasons I was so happy with this film is it did what I have been asking movies to do for years and that is to use just the same two minutes of footage in your marketing materials instead of so many films today that give you every joke, twist and plot point before you even make it into the theater.
Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) is told to pick a man and meet the general (Colin Firth) for an important mission. He chooses the nearest soldier in Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and heads into the trenches to receive their orders.
The duo are told the Germans are on the run, but it is strategic and the British troops chasing them are walking into a trap. Blake is given a message to take to the attacking battalion, where his brother is stationed, which is nine miles away, and stop the attack before dawn the next day.
From there, he and Schofield have to navigate No Man’s Land – a war-torn landscape of decomposing bodies and bottomless pits from the mortar fire – to reach a destination that always seems too far away in a mission that seems doomed to fail.
Director Sam Mendes (“Road to Perdition,” “Skyfall”) also co-wrote and produced this film, which he dedicated to his grandfather, Albert, who was a soldier in WWI and told young Sam stories like these. You can tell the passion put into this project and how much time was spent in the editing room to make something as wonderful as this.
I am a sucker for WWI films – and am glad to see the uptick in Great War flicks the past few years in “Wonder Woman” and the Peter Jackson love letter “They Shall Not Grow Old.” I am also a sucker for films meant to look like they were shot in one take, one of the main reasons I loved “Birdman” so much.
There are scenes in this that I know the crew stopped somewhere, but it is so well done, it is hard to pinpoint where. That is a credit to Mendes and Roger Deakins, who I refer to now as the “John Williams of cinematography.” One scene near the beginning shows Blake and Schofield making their way through the trenches up to the front line and not only is the scale immense, but every extra is in sync in a shot that had to take days to film because of all of the goings-on within it.
There is nothing I don’t like about this movie. I am excited to see this year’s Academy Award race after the Oscar nominations were released earlier this week, but honestly, this movie transcends awards. It is one for the ages.
Rating: R for violence, some disturbing images and language.
My score: 100/100
Jordan Bishop is the assistant news editor for the Stillwater News Press and can be reached at email@example.com.