Edge of 1917
When I was a teen (and out of Star Trek novels) I’d scan through the ever-changing stack of books beside my Mom’s bed. She is a bit of a war buff and would read a ton about The Great War (WW1) and World War II; mostly from the Canadian or British point of view (The Americans get enough attention, I guess). The best ones would have collected accounts told by the soldiers themselves.
A lot of war books are densely filled with facts with dates about who did what when, but these would have soldiers recalling a mission or a day out on the battlefield. There was something very human about these accounts. Sometimes they would chronicle a success, a partial success, or complete failure. You never knew which direction these life experiences would take. Even then, I thought about how many of these would make for some excellent movies. That is what 1917 is.
It takes place on The Great War’s Western Front in Northern France. Aerial reconnaissance observes the German army making a tactical withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, where they will lie in wait to overwhelm a planned British attack. With the field phone lines cut, two Lance Corporals Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), are assigned to deliver orders to stand down to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch). To reach him, the two Corporals will have to risk crossing no man’s land and a large walking distance within a short time. But failing to do places the lives of 1,600 men in jeopardy including Blake’s own brother.
1917 clocks in at a perfect 2hrs without a moment of it wasted. It is the advantage of telling a straightforward account rather than tackling a complex operation as many other war films do, but it also cuts to the chase.
“Best not to dwell on it.”
That is the advice a senior officer gives one of the corporals after a painful experience.
“Stiff upper lip. No time for mourning now. You must get that message through. We will let what just occurred sink in later. “
That is never said but it is what you feel with that one earlier line of dialogue. The brilliant move 1917 makes is to rarely explain what is happening but show you with long takes instead. Great effort was made to have the film flow like it was done in one continuous shot. It, of course, isn’t (that would be impossible) but it succeeds in making it feel that way. There are several Children of Men-ish heavy action sequences that are delivered smooth and fluid thanks to some heavy Steadicam use. I can’t wait to dive into the Blu-ray special features as I imagine they will be as compelling as the film itself. For now, this interview with cinematographer Richard Denkins will have to do.
When he was young, director Sam Mendes’ grandfather told him of the events that eventually would become 1917. I hope there are a few copy cats made as a result of its success as I greatly want to see more of these stories told on the big screen. If given the same care and treatment, I can envision them all being #MarsApproved.