Saving Private Ryan, 30 Seconds over Tokyo, Patton, Inglorious Bastards, The Great Escape and Schindler's List are only a few of the countless movies about World War II that have been made. In fact, many are still made today. So why haven't there been a lot of movies about the first World War? I think it comes down to exactly what was being fought for and what it meant for everyone. Everyone can agree that Nazism is bad and running a nation as a dictatorship robs everyone of their freedom. Germany was a common enemy that everyone would want to fight, similar to a simple film's goal of good against evil.
While World War I may have not had a simple enemy to get behind, it's still an important war as it collapsed several European empires, set the stage for a revolution in Russia, put the U.S. in a larger military position and unfortunately led to the deaths of millions. What movies can do is really put us in the position of those solders to see the magnitude of warfare and it's path of devastation. This may make 1917 one of the most intense movies to sit through, but an important one to witness.
In the misty month of April in 1917, English soldiers are resting after seeing the Germans pulling back from the western front. Two solders, Blake (played by Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (played by George MacKay) are assigned to deliver a message to another Battalion. They receive more information from General Erinmore (played by Colin Firth), where they find out that the 2nd Battalion , which is assuming an easy victory, is about to walk into a deadly battle with most of the German offensive attacking there. With the phone lines cut, both Blake and Schofield are instructed to cross No Man's Land to find the Battalion and deliver a message to not attack.
Plot wise, that's all you need to know about 1917. The rest of the movie follows these two men as they cross over the horror that is No Man's Land, abandoned German trenches and everything else that would scare any soldier crossing the lines. What separates this from a lot of other war movies is that the entire film is created to appear that everything is done in one continuous shot, never taking the perspective away from the main characters. This also includes time and light, depending whether it's day or night.
Even with it's ambition, 1917 is still a phenomenal movie that's an experience that gave my heart a large rush. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall) clearly wanted to give audiences the best way to experience the trenches and gunshots and did so through this one shot story. Birdman may have done something similar, but given how many extras and special effects went off, I would love to see a behind the scenes look at how everything was done. The cinematography pays a lot of detail to little things like the color of the sky during sunrise and how much paler skin would become after death.
The story feels a lot like something out of theme park or a video game…and I mean that in a good way. You're aware that your watching someone else's experience , but the right angles do make you feel like you’re a part of it. Where 1917 endures in the story is it's simple goal while going through several layers of warfare Hell. I could see this getting boring quick, but despite it's one shot goal, every scene still has a different look that never feels too familiar. The movie knows not to stop for too long unless it was for an important reason. It's a rush.
Does this movie into the bigger political or social impact of World War I? No, but that was never the intention. It's like watching someone's small story that is large in scale. If I did have any problems is that there's a point where a character is knocked out and he's awoken. I won't say where, but it broke part of the spell that the movie put me in. You can tell it’s a point where they were hiding an edit, but if the movie had a bunch of them in plain sight, you'd think they could have done better.
I'll give this four and a half dogfight planes out of five. Like a lot of war movies, this isn't a pleasant experience. It isn't supposed to be; it's meant to be a tool to really give you something that a lot of people have forgotten about as WWI movies aren’t made a lot. I highly recommend this if your willing to see something that I can't say I could make myself.