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“1917” Proves War is Hell




Review by John Delia

Opening this Holiday season is a WWI film 1917 and it’s one of the best movies of 2019. It may even have a shot from some of the big award givers come January and February. The Golden Globes has nominated the film in three categories including Best Motion Picture Drama, but we won’t get those results until January 5. It’s been awhile since a war film was chosen for the top Academy Award and you would have to go back to 2009 when The Hurt Locker took it. That top Oscar involved the most recent war in Iraq. But as far as a war film with fighting scenes throughout like 1917, it would be Saving Private Ryan in 1999 that got the nod for Best Picture.

The film 1917 takes you back in history to the battle grounds in World War I. Unfamiliar you say with WWI? Well just a quick refresher, it was a war that took place around the world, but fought mainly in Europe from 1914 to 1918. Marked as the most deadly war in history it killed over 16 million people, mostly military. During that four years an additional 50 million died connected to an influenza pandemic caused by the war. – Wikipedia

George MacKay as Schofield in “1917,” the new epic from Oscar®-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes.

Bogged down in northern France, the British soldiers are walking around in mud and filth in their maze of trenches waiting for orders to attack the Germans. It’s called the big push and the enemy are set up on the other side of their trenches. Between the two armies is a place called “No Man’s Land”, an area filled with mire, dead bodies, barbed wire and booby-traps. All leaves have been cancelled because of the big push when Pvt. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), and Pvt. Schofield (George MacKay) are called to the captain’s bunker for special duty.

General Erinmore (Colin Firth) has arrived and he is looking for two men who can find their way to Col. MacKenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) who’s in command of the British forces holding down a flank on the other side of No Man’s Land. With communications down and a planned attack by MacKenzie’s platoon set to go, the two men must deliver orders to MacKenzie not to attack because information has been received that they would be walking into a trap. Since the attack by his forces will take place at dawn, they have less than a day to cross No Man’s Land, additional occupied territory and an unassailable river.

(from left) Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) in “1917,” the new epic from Oscar®-winning filmmaker Sam Mendes.

Director Sam Mendes who also co-wrote the film from information handed down to him from his grandfather packs the film with war violence, death, muck and mud as the two men leave the confines of their platoon and start their trek pent up on doing their duty and saving lives. The locations, sets and costumes are magnificent for a stage that’s dominated by death and destruction. The make-up, prosthesis and modelers takes the top prize as Mendes depicts the brutal undertaking by the two men and their cringing combat.

What holds the film together and makes it work are two actors that give moving performances as the two messengers that dart headlong into a mission with impossible odds of completing it. Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay team up in this war thriller and make it a winner. Unlike the other war stories of the recent past, it’s two against many and it takes their wits, courage and fortitude to avoid death to save hundreds of their fellow soldiers from imminent slaughter. Each step they take into the unknown has you glued to the screen and holding your breath.

George MacKay as Schofield in “1917,” co-written and directed by Sam Mendes.

Chapman has had a good start to a career that should get a boost from his performance here. Appearing in films like Breathe (2017), The Commuter (2018) The King (2019) and this co-starring break-out role, producers should have him in the cross hairs of some future projects. As for George MacKay while giving his all in 1917 three of his other films came out this year. He’s already has 40 credits to his name and he’s still in his twenties. A British actor, you may remember him in the film Captain Fantastic as one of Vigo Mortensen’s kids in that comedy/drama.

1917 has been rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language. The violence is war related and includes a lot of very tense moments and some realistic looking combat scenes. The images of death in the no man’s land scenes are very cringing and visually alarming. Because of the nature and visuals in the film be cautious of this if you are deciding whether to take immature teens along.

FINAL ANALYSIS: One of my top ten films released in 2019. (5 out of 5 stars)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed and co-written by: Sam Mendes
Genre: Drama, War
MPAA Rating: R for violence, some disturbing images, and language
Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.
Opening Date: December 25, 2019
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Released in: Theaters, Color

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