We have now seen the best movie of the year.
It is April 6, 1917. The “War to end all wars” will rage on until the Treaty of Versailles is signed on November 11, 1918. Armistice Day commemorated that event until it was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.
This is a uniquely effective, immersive film, due to being filmed in a continuous single camera shot (technically, listed as edited to appear as one shot). Only at one point at about the mid point did the screen go black, allowing for a reset, but then continued on in single camera fashion to the end. The difficulty of doing this, both from a cinematography perspective, performance by the actors, staging, lighting and set construction are hard to conceive, but Sam Mendes pulled it all together in the best war movie since Saving Private Ryan.
And perhaps this could have been called Saving Lieutenant Blake.
1917 was filmed in the UK on April 1, 2019. Imagine rehearsing the entire two hour journey of two young British soldiers through battlefields, trenches and bombed out villages while flares and bombs are exploding, planes are circling and crashing, through chase scenes, hand to hand combat, being swept down a raging river over a waterfall, and so much more, while cameras are following, circling and leading the audience through the action as if participating in the events first hand.
There is no provision for starting over. No “cut” or “take two” here. Beginning with orders from Colin Firth as General Erinmore, and culminating with the delivery of a crucial message to Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel MacKenzie, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) endures heart pounding, stomach turning horror to prevent the slaughter of 1600 British troops in a German trap.
Producer Sam Mendes previously gave us Road to Perdition, Revolutionary Road, The Kite Runner and dozens of Penny Dreadful episodes for Showtime. George MacKay, a busy actor, but appearing here in a breakout performance, deserves a special award for this punishing role. Alongside Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Blake, the human side of this relentlessly horrific war propels us through the early mechanization of military conflict, which was otherwise still being fought as it was during the Civil War. An underlying theme, as often is the case, is that no good deed goes unpunished. Compassion shown for the enemy frequently backfires in spectacularly tragic fashion.
This film has already taken its place among the top 25 war films of all time, and there are some heavy hitters in that crowd, from Apocalypse Now to All Quiet on the Western Front and Lawrence of Arabia.
See this on the big screen. If you suffer from PTSD, I recommend that you not suffer through this two-hour journey through Hell.
1917 (2019) Runs 1 hour 59 minutes and is rated R.
Should I see this movie?