Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Blake (left), and George MacKay as Lance Corporal Schofield (right) anxiously make their way through battlegrounds. (COURTESY OF FRANCOIS DUHAMEL/UNIVERSAL PICTURES)

Review: ‘1917’ is an experience fit for the biggest screens

Modern film audiences are becoming more and more accustomed to skipping the theater experience entirely, and simply waiting for their most anticipated films to hit one of the many streaming services that are dominating the entertainment industry. 

“1917,” however, is a film that demands to be seen on the big screen. Director Sam Mendes, along with cinematographer Roger Deakins, delivers a film that charges past the eyes and ears of the viewer, firmly planting itself within the heart and soul, ensuring that it will live there long after the credits have stopped rolling. 

The film — which recently won Golden Globes for best drama and director — follows two British soldiers during the first World War who are given the vital task of delivering a message which will save the lives of thousands of their comrades. Shown in real time, it allows the audience to follow every step of their journey. The most impressive aspect of the film is the brilliant decision to shoot it as one seemingly continuous shot, without the camera cutting to a new angle. 

Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Blake (left), and George MacKay as Lance Corporal Schofield (right) anxiously make their way through battlegrounds.
(Courtesy of Francois Duhamel | Universal Pictures)

This method makes the viewers feel as if they are traveling right alongside the protagonists. It immerses the audience in a way that a traditional filming style could not do. 

Perhaps the film’s greatest strength is the gorgeous cinematography of Deakins, who is known for his Academy Award-winning work on “Blade Runner 2049.” The use of both wide landscape shots and intimate interior settings creates a very tactile, realistic journey. By utilizing the almost improvisational nature of the filmmaking style, the viewer feels as if anything could happen at any moment. 

This is what makes “1917” so unique and refreshing, even within the war genre. It does not follow a traditional narrative — the kind that recent blockbuster war films like “American Sniper” and “Lone Survivor” adhere to. While there are spectacularly intense and gripping battle sequences, the film’s most profound moments come from the quieter scenes, in which both the characters and the viewer are left to collect their thoughts about what they have just witnessed. 

In a cinematic landscape populated predominantly by costumed superheroes and light saber wielding space wizards, spectacle is everything. Audiences are now accustomed to enormous explosions, blue lasers shooting into the sky, and fast cars performing physically impossible stunts with the help of computer-generated effects. Many of “1917’s” most impressive visual achievements were captured in camera, with the actors really interacting with their surroundings. 

With so many post-production tools available to filmmakers in this modern era of filmmaking, this makes the herculean efforts of Mendes and Deakins all the more commendable. 

Their commitment to realism cannot be understated because it provides the film with a certain indescribable authenticity that simply could not be replicated by green screens or digital effects. 

The film is more about the effect of the war on the two soldiers, and is less focused on throwing big battle sequences in the face of the viewer. The best thing about “1917” is that its filmmakers recognize that the year is 2020; audiences have seen spectacular war battles again and again, so the film does not make them its main priority. Rather, “1917” treats them simply as part of the environment that the two soldiers are making their way through. 

“1917” is an incredible combination of creativity, ingenuity and a deep love for the story that reminds us just how deeply films can move us. 

The film has received 10 Academy Award nominations and is in theaters now. 

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