1917: A Review


(1917 movie poster, from Universal)

Christian Coleman

Sam Mendes’ 1917 is one of the most outstanding and ambitious films as of recently. The one hour fifty-nine minute film is shot as if it were one single take. Through editing magic, this illusion of seamlessness makes you feel as if you are experiencing everything at the same moment the characters are. Commenting on the continuous nature of the film Mendes said this:  “I want every step with the characters, I want to breathe every breath with them, I want to be trapped on their journey with them.” That is exactly what this film did– we were put in the muddied, battle-worn shoes of William Schofield throughout the entire film. This has to be one of the most intense, harrowing, and fascinating stories told on screen.   

The acting is phenomenal in this film, with strong performances that invoke feelings of heartbreak, sorrow, and despair.  The chemistry between Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean Charles-Chapman) was authentic and made me feel like I was there on the battlefield too. Their characters are believable as friends and as young soldiers following orders. Another important part of the magic of the film is the sets– the vacant buildings, the fields strewn with bodies, and the barbed wire remind us that not only are the soldiers facing the hardships of war, but the destruction the beautiful countrysides of France faced as well. The encounters that they have with unexpected characters seem unscripted; it is easy to forget that this is, in fact, a scripted film. Everything appears natural, the movements and interactions with the environment and side characters are fluid. The extras add a major believability to the scenes involving the battlefield.   

What really ties everything together is the score. There is so much that can be said about the original soundtrack. The track “Gehenna” that plays as Schofield and Blake are traversing a trench is haunting. It slowly builds up with the characters’ movement, starting with a slow, melancholy piano to a full orchestra when the characters climb out of a massive trench. It compliments the shot beautifully, as the tension in the scene is in sync with the music. Alongside the soundtrack is an excellent sound design.The gunshots and explosions are enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. The silence leading up to the action kept me wondering when the next shot would be fired, and by whom. Firefights deliver the amount of intensity they should, each gunshot carrying a heavy, rich sound. Biplanes fly overhead sounding as if they are passing directly over you and you are standing in the fields down below.

If you have not had the chance to see 1917, it is an incredible experience that I highly recommend it. I went into it thinking I would like it, but I did not think that I would like it as much as I did. Every single moment of this film is captivating–I am refraining from any spoilers or details about the film, because I believe this is a film best watched with no expectations.