Writer/director Sam Mendes’s visual, fictionalized account of a WW1 incident told to him by his grandfather, Alfred Mendes; “1917” differs from traditional “war” films in its intimacy; two British corporals sent on a death-defying mission, through still volatile, vacated enemy lines, to cauterize an attack by an ally battalion, an attack, orchestrated by the Germans, risking the lives of 1,600 soldiers; the brother of “Lance Corporal Blake” (eminent performance by Dean Charles- Chapman) is part of the battalion; accompanied by “Lance Corporal Schofield” (superb, sensitive George MacKay) the two’s journey had to be accomplished within a day’s time.
Startling, remarkable cinematography (Roger Deakins) enhances the “stream of consciousness”, moment to moment maneuverability of the corporals as they progress through a landscape that divulges, more than dialogue, the savagery of “man’s inhumanity to man”. Furthermore “1917” is a commentary on man’s initiative to extricate the extraordinary, harboring at his core; salient courage pulsates throughout this gorgeous, magnificently filmed movie. Cameo roles by Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott lend dignity, legitimacy to Mendes’ homage to Alfred Mendes (1897-1991).
Films focusing on WWI have slipped in notoriety, and garnish a distant second against WWII features; recent exceptions, “They Shall Not Grow Old” and “War Horse” cannot compete with “Dunkirk”, “Darkest Hour” and inimitable “Schindler’s List” (re-released in 2018, honoring its 25th anniversary); literature scores in its educational, emotional, personal value: “All Quiet on the Western Front”, by Erich Maria Remarque; “The Guns of August”, Barbara W. Tuchman, and my consummate favorite Mark Helprin’s “A Soldier of the Great War”; the written word resonates long after consumed.
“1917’s” gripping intensity reaffirms the magic of filmmaking, elucidating the brilliance behind the camera, the genius of the filmmaker!