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article imageReview: ‘1917’ puts audiences on the battlefield Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Jan 10, 2020 in Entertainment
‘1917’ is a WWI drama in which the lives of more than 1000 men rely on two soldiers who must cross enemy lines to deliver a message that will prevent their imminent deaths.
Period war dramas still tend to resonate with audiences. Films set during the First and Second World Wars are especially effective, though most of the viewers were not yet alive during the former or, in many cases, even the latter. The less technologically-sophisticated combat strategies and weaponry seem to correlate with greater personal risk to the soldiers, who were generally young men asked to fight and die for their countries. Bouts of fear are mixed in with acts of heroism as they march over the bodies of their fallen friends to finish the task they started together. 1917 follows two British soldiers on a mission to limit the bloodshed.
One morning, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) are awoken with a summons from their commander. A message must be delivered to a battalion several miles away ordering them to stand down as they’re about to run headlong into a trap set by the Germans. Blake is a map expert and his brother is part of the company about to be massacred, giving him added incentive to deliver the instructions before the attack at dawn. Schofield is just a level-headed soldier and trusted friend along for the journey. Together, the pair cross enemy territory to hopefully save the lives of 1600 men.
Even a great narrative can fall short if it’s not presented correctly. However, director Sam Mendes’ unique approach to this story sets it apart from other similar tales. To put audiences in the thick of it with the two soldiers, the entire two-hour film appears to be shot in a single take. It’s like a choreographed dance as Roger Deakins’ camera seamlessly moves from in-front to behind the protagonists, never missing a beat. It’s spectacular to witness for the first 10 minutes before the effect gradually fades out of notice and into its purpose, which is to immerse audiences into the picture.
Given the demanding nature of the storytelling method, the actors are remarkable. Moving through a maze of trenches, they hit all their marks while delivering the dramatic dialogue of two young men tasked with a critical errand. Though Chapman and MacKay may be recognizable to some, they were purposely chosen for their relative anonymity. However, they prove more than capable of carrying this film and engaging viewers in the soldiers’ harrowing story. Yet, the movie still attracted high-calibre actors for less prominent roles, including Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch, who play superior officers the men encounter on their journey.
All of these elements combine to create a film in which audiences experience the narrative alongside Blake and Schofield, feeling their triumphs, losses, fear and exhaustion through the entire picture. This accomplishment already earned the movie Golden Globes for best director and motion picture drama with more sure to come during the remaining awards season.
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay and Colin Firth
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