REVIEW: “1917”


One of my biggest frustrations of the 2019 movie year was the very “limited” release of the World War I war epic “1917”. It was the only movie I wasn’t able to see before end of the year deadlines. It wouldn’t be a big deal except for the rave reviews from the handfuls who have seen it and more recently it’s surprising Best Picture win at this year’s Golden Globes.

“1917” finally gets its full release and I can begrudgingly say it was worth the wait. As happens too often these days, a small yet unfortunate group of detractors and dismissers have suddenly popped up mainly as a reaction to the film’s win at the Globes. But tossing out the “my favorite movie or nothing” approach, “1917” is a truly riveting experience and an exhilarating reminder of the value of the big screen experience.


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The story opens with Lance Corporals Schofield (George MacKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) in a field napping under a shade tree. Enjoy the moment because it’s the last time director Sam Mendes allows us the chance to relax. The two young men are ordered to get up and report to General Erinmore (Colin Firth) for a dangerous mission of vital importance. And just like that, this tense white-knuckled war thriller is off and running.

Their mission itself is the film’s story. After heavy fighting on the French countryside the Germans suddenly retreat prompting the British military brass to send the 2nd Battalion to prepare for a final offensive. But it’s actually a trap set by the Germans who are waiting to ambush the 2nd. With communication lines down Schofield and Blake are ordered to cross enemy lines and get a message to the 2nd calling off the attack. If they fail their mission 1,600 soldiers will be massacred, Blake’s older brother among them.

Visually the film is built upon the illusion of one long continuous shot. In actuality the entire movie is made up of a series of long takes broken up by several cleverly hidden cuts. Arguably the best cinematographer in the business, Roger Deakins shoots each extended sequence with the graceful fluidity of a ballet. His camera is always in motion, dancing with the evocative Thomas Newman score, capturing the main characters and their movements from a variety of angles and perspectives. It’s filmmaking so exquisite that there were times when I found myself admiring it more than the story.

Mendes’ script (co-written by Krysty Wilson-Cairns and inspired by a story told to him by his grandfather) takes the two protagonists across a variety of hellish, war-torn landscapes: muddy battlefields full of decaying corpses, rat infested trenches, a bombed-out hull of a town where a handful of frightened German soldiers have been left behind. Booby traps, stretches of tangled barbed wire, sniper fire, a crashing biplane – it’s all experienced in real-time (sort of) and each new danger brings out yet another layer of humanity.


With astonishing clarity “1917” captures the ugliness of war in all of its savage, blood-soaked horror. There is no flash, no glorification, no romanticizing. Yes, it features staggering set pieces and truly amazing visual craftsmanship, but you could say this film is much like Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory” in its anti-war sentiment. It not only documents the devastation and tragedy but it expresses the futility and vanity of war with a strategic subtlety.


With “1917” Sam Mendes takes his audience on a perilous journey driven by a simple but tightly-wound story soaked in an unending tension. It’s a harrowing tale of heroism, friendship, and sacrifice. At the same time, the film’s remarkable technical achievement can’t be overstated and it’s essential in making “1917” a truly breathless cinematic experience.



39 thoughts on “REVIEW: “1917”

  1. Glad you finally got to see it, and even happier that your reaction is so enthusiastic. This is the kind of movie that makes me cherish the movie going experience and at the same time mourn some of the limited imagination that exists in Hollywood. If only there were more people willing to try something original, that is made for a cinematic rather than home experience.

    • 100%! Love the original vision and it most definitely is made with the big screen experience in mind. It was a long wait but well worth it. Hope to see it again before it leaves theaters.

  2. I felt like a lot of the Globes reaction to this was not because the film didn’t “deserve” its win, but because no one had seen it yet and couldn’t say if they agreed on it or not. That’s how I felt anyways. It’s been a must see from me for a while but I would’ve liked to have been more excited about it winning, but I couldn’t because it’s not here yet.

    Anyways, I’m fixing that this weekend because my theater is finally opening this and Just Mercy. I guess I’ll be having a depressing double feature. I’m glad to hear this is worth the wait.

    • I was mainly referencing a handful of critics who said good things about the movie before it won the GG. After it won and became a possible Oscar frontrunner, suddenly they started making dismissive comments about it. Weird.

      But you’re right. Many of us couldn’t have an opinion because of these crappy release schedules. I swear, I still can’t figure them out.

      Anyway, REALLY anxious to hear what you think of it.

      • Yeah, like you said, it felt like the sort of film which was specifically made for the cinematic experience! The room was packed man, but here in England it’s pretty rare for the audience to ever do anything other than sit in silence when watching a film at the cinema!

  3. I’m very glad you got to see this at last – it is hands down my favorite movie of the year, or of the last couple years at least! Definitely the best war film in recent memory for me. It honestly took me a good few days to come down from this movie. And yes – it is definitely one of those that has an even more amazing impact on the big screen. I actually thought the score was pretty amazing too – quite unlike anything Thomas Newman has ever done!

    • The score was tremendous and there were a couple of points where it really moved me. This falls in with Dunkirk for me. They’re much different movies but the way they both convey war have a lot of similarities.

  4. Oh man, I was thinking Dunkirk or Malick’s Thin Red Line, but Kubrick’s Paths of Glory you say??? I’m SOLD. Jk, I’ll watch anything shot by Roger Deakins. Best Cinematography of the year you think?

    • I think Deakins should definitely win Best Cinematography. It’s just extraordinary work. As for Paths of Glory, this is a much different movie in terms of story and structure. But both share an anti-war sentiment that often comes through visually as much a narratively. It’s sublime filmmaking.

    • Yes! You must see it in the cinema. I’ll be anxious to read your thoughts. Most people are coming away pretty breathless. It would have definitely made my top 10 list if it had come out here before my deadlines.

  5. Pingback: 45+ 1917 Reviews – Real WWI Trench Warfare – Movies, Movies, Movies

  6. It’s a brilliant film for sure. Has to be seen at the cinema to fully be immersed in it. I thought of Paths of Glory too. Along with Bridge on the River Kwai, it’s my favourite war film. Out of curiosity, what stopped the full 5 stars?

    • It’s weird. I give so few 5 star reviews (more this year than before). The only remotely negative thing is that at times I found myself admiring the technique more than the story. Otherwise I just love it. Glad to see it among the Best Picture nominees.

  7. Excellent review, Keith. I’m glad you found meaning within the film and your balletic description of the cinematography was spot on. I just caught up and wrote about this today. While I admired a lot of it. I did not find it as interesting (subtextually) as other war films. This was on account of the main character who I don’t think had much development which for me resulted in his encounters throughout the film quite hollow.

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