1917 is not just a war film, but a movie-going experience

Writer and director Sam Mendes showcases both intense and raw moments in this Golden Globe-winning drama

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

by Marisa Rizzo, SFU Student

When the Golden Globes aired, many viewers (including myself) were surprised to see that the First World War film 1917 took home the award for not only Best Director, but Best Motion Picture-Drama. Against the likes of directors such as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, and with stiff competition such as The Irishman, Marriage Story, and Joker, this film managed to win. So when it finally came out for wide release, the people flocked to see why this movie was receiving so much praise.

1917 is about two young British soldiers who have been given a mission to deliver a message miles away in order to stop a planned attack on the Germans during the First World War. If they fail to make it in time, over a thousand allied soldiers would be killed.

I was completely blown away by multiple aspects of the film and can now see why it won the awards it did. It has amazing performances from our two young leads, actors George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman. Both actors were able to flawlessly show the naivety of youth in such a dark place, but also the bravery that was required in these life-or-death situations. 

Mackay shared that one of the film’s climactic scenes contained some choreographed mistakes that were kept in the film. As he was running across the battlefield, he bumped into an extra and fell to the ground. However, he kept acting, got up, and continued running so that the take could still potentially get used. Filmmaking moments and choices such as this give an added sense of realism to an already elevated story.  

What makes this film such a unique movie-going experience is that it appears to be shot all in one take. This technique adds to the overall immersion and really puts the audience alongside the main characters. Director and writer Sam Mendes has said how difficult this kind of filmmaking is and how the crew planned it all meticulously. He and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns crafted a screenplay with this goal in mind to have the story grounded and not bouncing around to other characters and locations. What really brought this vision to reality is the cinematography and editing. There are some shots where you can see how they were planning a transition to a new scene, but it all flows so seamlessly that the shot is uninterrupted.

Another aspect of the film I thoroughly enjoyed was the overall pacing of the story. There’s a balance between  intense, action filled scenes to more quiet and raw ones. We get a chance to see not only how the soldiers are being affected by the horrors of the war, but the physical and environmental aspects of it as well. From chopped down trees to destroyed towns that are burning to the ground, this demonstrated the far reaches and impact that a war can bring about. 

Overall, I highly recommend seeing this film in theatres. The acting from both George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman is phenomenal, the visuals are breathtaking, and you will find yourself fully immersed in the movie leaving you at the edge of your seat.