The winds of war

‘1917’ is an insightful look into the horrors of World War I

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Photo from Universal Studios

‘1917’ has received an 89 out of 100 approval rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

Tim Powers, Staff Writer

With every new year comes the annual war movie designed for winning Oscars. This year is no exception with the release of “1917,” a gorgeously shot and directed film by Sam Mendes, most known for his work on “American Beauty.” 

“1917” centers around Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) during the events of World War I. Both characters have been tasked with sending a time-sensitive message to another sector of troops. The British have discovered that the Germans are planning an ambush against their army. Blake and Schofield have been tasked with informing those members of the army to call off their attack before it is too late.

The film is held together by this loose plot, which ultimately becomes less of a focus as the movie moves on. The screenwriters instead want to showcase the harsh realities and tragedies of war through the travels of the two characters. While this makes for some great cinematic visuals and action, it comes at the expense of the characters and their development. We never find out much about our two central characters in the beginning nor do we by the end of the film. Instead they come across as plastic pieces in a large game of chess, which, in a game of war, they are.

With a lack of well-rounded characters, it is surprising that the film still comes off as emotional and successful as it does. This can be attributed to the films assured and graceful direction by Mendes. The film is shot using a one-take illusion, making it seem as though there has been no editing and that everything is performed and completed in a single take. This makes the film feel so intensely immersive, which provides an anxious and almost horrific tone throughout the film. Mendes makes sure you know what’s coming and that you never forget it. 

The star of the film remains the cinematography created by Oscar winner Roger Deakins. Never once do the images on screen not seem like they could be a famous painting hanging in the Louvre. The most striking of which comes from the scenes taking place at night. Deakins shoots with dashes of light and hope among the darkness and the unknown of the war. “1917” is a visual masterpiece that should not be taken for granted when giving the film its position in cinematic history. 

Many of Britain’s most famous actors appear in this film, but for only a short cameo. They perform their roles with great intensity and precision. The leads, MacKay and Chapman, each create powerful characters out of subtle actions and both  refuse to back down or give up despite the troubles they each face. Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth appear briefly and make powerful impressions, but the most impressive cameo comes from Golden Globe winner, Richard Madden. The talented actor manages to create the most gut-punching and heartbreaking moment of the entire film within a short 30 seconds. Madden proves how any great actor can give a good performance no matter how little material they are given. 

“1917” is a powerful film, but I couldn’t help but think of other films while watching it, particularly 2017’s “Dunkirk.” This war epic seems to borrow from both films in style and substance. “Dunkirk,” similarly to “1917,” takes a brutal and almost emotionless look at the tragedies of war. The most prominent difference between the two is that “1917” centers around World War I and “Dunkirk” is about World War II.

Despite being an overdone cinematic concept on paper, “1917” is a towering technical achievement that is sure to secure many wins out of the ten Oscar nominations the film has received this year. This film is a powerful exploration of the intensity, heartbreak and horror that war wrecks on those who are tasked with fighting it. The never-ending anxiety and trauma are masterfully displayed on film and illuminate the coldness that comes with the winds of war.

4/5 stars