While many films have been made about World War I, few films have captured the raw emotion, terror and heroism as shown in “1917.”
In the spring of 1917 in Northern France, two lance corporals, Will Schofield and Tom Blake (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman), are tasked with an impossible mission. Communications are down, and General Erinmore (Colin Firth) needs to relay a message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) of the Second Battalion.
The message contains orders to call off a planned attack of the German army. Erinmore has discovered the Germans are planning a trap in said attack, and failure to relay this message to Mackenzie and the Second Battalion would result in the loss of 1,600 soldiers.
Why did Erinmore choose Schofield and Blake? As it turns out, Blake’s brother is a lieutenant in the Second Battalion. If motivation to save 1,600 soldiers wasn’t enough, saving his own brother’s life is all the motivation Blake needs.
Schofield is greatly hesitant and considers it to be a suicide mission, but Blake won’t hear it. He’s determined to reach the Second Battalion by dawn before 1,600 men, and his brother, walk into a trap.
In a race against time, the two soldiers embark on a journey that is filled with more than its fair share of danger. While there are a few allies they meet up with along the way, there’s plenty of booby-traps, enemy fire and casualties in their path. Together, Schofield and Blake are the only hope in the daunting hopelessness on the horizon.
The greatest asset “1917” has in its favor is the action never lets up. The film’s sense of urgency is both fascinating and heart-pounding. There’s no time for a backstory or subplot: two young men are racing against time and enemy forces for two hours straight.
You don’t often associate a war film with beauty and aesthetics, but the film has that and then some. One particular scene in which the pitch-black sky is lit up with enemy artillery and gunfire ablaze, while haunting, is also cinematography at its highest achievement.
Still, war is war, and “1917” reminds us numerous times how traumatizing and ugly war can be. No one resonates with those emotions of war better than MacKay portraying his Schofield character. The soldier’s look of terror is ever-present throughout the entirety of the film, but he also knows he has a job to do with every deep breath he takes.
The film is unapologetically intense and in your face. There are no intentions of exaggeration, but rather, a focus on the thrilling and harrowing experience that was World War I.
Uplifting wouldn’t necessarily be a word to describe “1917.” It’s not a happily-ever-after Disney film, nor is it a team of superheroes saving the world to make everything better.
“1917” is the story of two young soldiers, not looking to win the war, but win the day. To live for tomorrow and win the day. What an agonizing, yet gorgeously-crafted, cinematic achievement.