Cinematic Releases: The Horrors of War: 1917 (2019) - Reviewed

The horrors of war have been chronicled since the advent of celluloid. It's been one of the most constant filmed topics that will continue to make for interesting movies as there are so many unique and tragic stories to tell. 1917 is no different. This is pure cinema. 

In a year that's so front loaded with outstanding dramatic features, this is one of the standout players. Ever since the release of Saving Private Ryan in 1998, filmgoers have been a bit jaded. Well, 1917 hits the reset switch, playing with a different time and a different period of warfare that hasn't been overdone to death quite yet. 

For decades now, we've sat through horrendous stories of men, women, and children being dispatched during some of the most visceral and obscene acts of warfare known to exist. Often times, the terrible nature of mankind is shown to us through a glaring lens with a focus on how awful we can be when put in dire, life altering situations that most often times cause death or dismemberment. At other times, we're shown profound stories of heroism that force us to grit our teeth while youthful soldiers have to make serious future defining choices for themselves and others. 

Sam Mendes' 1917 is a pure spectacle of the human spirit that shows us all sides of pre-drone strike warfare, when we were still forced to face our enemies and our fears head on. At a perfect pace, he leads us through the front lines as the hero of our story is challenged by a plot that's strikingly similar to The Revenant. From the onset, we're asked to sit through a long set of endurance challenges that would make any grown man cower in fear. Setting aside all angst or doubt, an adventure transpires that will hit home for any parent with teenage children. 

The main character, played the talented George MacKay is expected to cross paths with hell's fury as he transcends the countryside hoping to deliver orders to the company's commander. If he succeeds, hundreds of lives will be saved. At each turn, he is faced by his own mortality as WWI unleashes her destructive ferocity all around him. MacKay seems right at home in his role, never seeming like he's forcing his performance. With war movies, it can be easy to become melodramatic. Instead, MacKay slips into this film with ease, never coming up for air until the concluding moments. He stays the course of creating a believable character that really just wants to survive. 

Under the careful and lustrous cinematography of Roger Deakins (1984, The Shawshank Redemption, Blade Runner 2049), 1917 has that classic lived in feel. Instead of a digital rendition like this year's other war movie Midway, Deakins work has that old, gritty film look with amazing shots of the environments surrounding the central characters. Capturing the essence of vintage war films, everything here is done to full effect with awesome visual effects and battle scenes. The costuming is period perfect, the dialogue flows naturally, and the way the story moves at an even keel lets the viewer connect and emote with Lance Corporal Schofield as he traverses the countryside searching for hope and redemption. 

Transposing war to the screen has to be hell. The proposition of recreating all the scenery, the war torn backdrops, and all that comes along with it must be one of the hardest things to get right. Fortunately, 1917 hits high marks across the board. The acting is always solid. The editing team trades off style for realism. And the directorial duties are handled with utmost care. Mendes obviously has a real love for this time period. Inspired by his Grandfather's experience during the war, he moves from his work on the last couple James Bond movies with no creative challenges whatsoever. 

1917 has tons of early momentum behind it. People seem very excited to see this when it comes out. Happily, it's easy to say that is definitely one of the better war films of the decade. 

-Chris George