Having to use only five words to describe 1917 it could be said that it is a "dramatic", "slow", "heavy" and "simply wonderful" film. If an exceptional cast, fifty awards received so far and ten nomination the Oscars should not seem to you enough reasons to run to the cinema, then this is the review for you.
SPOILER ALERT: in the article DON'T you will run into plot spoilers, unless you go to open the special curtains. Being a war movie, however, don't be too surprised to find that there are dead and injured.
The date is April 6, 1917, we are in the French portion of the western front, the German army seems to be withdrawing but it's all a tactic ... and this review is turning into the parody that Fabio De Luigi made of Carlo Lucarelli. So, we said, it's all a tactic: an aerial reconnaissance discovers that, in reality, the enemy defensive line is only backward. When Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) will launch his 1600 men, taking advantage of the retreat, the entire British battalion will end up in the trap created by the Germans.
Communications are interrupted, time is running out and the attack must be stopped before dawn the following day, so General Erinmore (Colin Firth) appoints two young corporals, William Schofiel (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), to deliver the message to the colonel. The general's choice is not accidental: Lieutenant Joseph Blake (Richard Madden), in fact, is stationed right in the platoon to be rescued and this can only motivate his brother Tom to complete the mission at any cost.
From here begins the narration of the journey of the two comrades, followed step by step as they cross the kilometers that divide the two camps, trying to remain unharmed in a race against time.
To the direction we find Sam Mendes, already known to the general public for directing the award-winning American Beauty and two films from the 007, Namely Skyfall e Spectre. For this film Mendes chooses to adopt a fake sequence plan and the result is visually splendid: the cuts between one scene and another are almost invisible, although some of the moments in which they were inserted can be hypothesized very well. This gives the viewer the feeling of following the two protagonists in real time, climbing over the corpses and sinking their boots in the mud with them, as if he were a third travel companion.
Only one scene is an exception: the one in which William is wounded in the head and remains unconscious on the ground for what we suppose to be several hours. Moreover, if the film is already heavy for the topics covered, imagine what it would have been like to frame an unconscious man at the foot of a staircase for whole minutes.
To direct the photograph, however, there is Roger Deakins, former Oscar winner for Blade Runner 2049 and with a filmography that includes masterpieces such as A Beautiful Mind e The wings of Freedom. Curiously, Deakins operated firsthand handling one of the cameras, a habit left to him by the many documentaries shot in his youth.
For the screenplay, Sam Mendes was inspired by the stories handed down to him by his grandfather, Alfred Hubert Mendes, who had fought for two years on the French front in his youth and to whose memory the film is dedicated. To help Mendes in the drafting we find Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Scottish screenwriter known by the director during the production of Penny Dreadful.
1917 was greeted with enthusiasm by the public and critics, receiving ten Oscar nominations and winning, to date, about fifty awards.
Not being able to list them all, we only see the most important:
- Best Drama Movie (Golden Globe)
- Best director (Golden Globe) to Sam Mendes
- Best photography (BAFTA) to Roger Deakins
- Best movie (BAFTA)
- Best director (BAFTA) to Sam Mendes
- Best scenography (BAFTA) a Dennis Gassner e Lee Sandales
- Best sound (BAFTA) to Scott Millan, Oliver Tarney, Rachael Tate, Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson
- Best Special Effects (BAFTA) to Greg Butler, Guillaume Rocheron and Dominic Tuohy
The doubt, at this point, is not about the possibility that the film will win an Oscar but the number of statuettes that will bring home.
First of all, it is necessary to make a premise: to sign this review is a person with a very strong fetishism for the technique of the sequence plan. This does not mean, however, to appreciate its indiscriminate use, when it is poorly dosed or does not make sense in the economy of the film. Here, this is absolutely not the case.
Aided by the script, in fact, Mendes' stylistic choice pays both in terms of atmosphere and involvement of the spectator, managing not to test the suspension of disbelief and maintaining a discreet realism. The scenes shot steadicam in the trenches, for example, really give the feeling that the camera is mounted on the back of the fellow soldier who walks in front of them and leaves you breathless, also thanks to an impeccable assembly and a goosebumps sound.
In short, the direction is undoubtedly the spearhead of the work and, although theAcademy is not used to pairing the prizes for best film and best direction, 1917 might actually deserve them both it would not be the first time for Mendes.
The photography is exceptional, nothing to say. The light plays a fundamental role for the entire duration of the film and is perfectly dosed, alternating shadowy tactics (the cuts, moreover, had to be inserted somewhere) to scenes where you have to almost close your eyes to not be dazzled.
The leading actors are in splendid shape and it is appreciable to be able to see the good Tommen Baratheon of Game of Thrones (Dean-Charles Chapman) in a role that enhances it and highlights its real abilities. To hold the entire narrative, however, is his supporting actor: MacKay gives us an intense interpretation, at times almost poignant but never obvious. If we consider that he does not open his mouth for entire scenes, then, one cannot but appreciate his excellent work.
It must also be said, however, that MacKay is the only protagonist of the film, with the death of his partner even before the interval. At this point it is inevitable that his interpretation will stand out because, for all intents and purposes, he is practically the only character on stage.
As for the plot, as always, it is a matter of taste: you will undoubtedly find who will define it as “yet another American” for the heroic and patriotic cut that Hollywood productions tend to give to war films but, personally, I think that a criticism of the genre is more suitable for films such as American Sniper by Clint Eastwood who is not in 1917. The story develops in a linear but not too trivial way, with a rhythm that makes it all in all enjoyable compared to the difficult topic dealt with.
First of all there is no denying that the film, at the level of pacing, it is rather slow but this is almost inevitable when choosing to turn at almost real speed. The plot takes place over a period of about a day and, although the travel time has obviously been reduced, the plot ends up alternating short accelerations with sudden braking. Personally, I had no problems getting to the bottom of the two hours of film, but some viewers may find it a bit heavy, especially given the topics covered and the crudeness of some scenes.
Once you get over this obstacle, if you allow it, 1917 it will enter your heart like a blade and leave you stunned.
To want to be picky, moreover, one has the feeling that the cast has not been exploited properly: apart from the two protagonists, the other actors end up being relegated to more than minor roles, we could almost say cameos. In addition to the aforementioned Cumberbatch, Firth and Madden, in fact, Mendes also had the talented ones available Mark Strong (who plays Captain Smith) ed Andrew Scott (in the role of Lieutenant Leslie) but, on balance, almost everyone appears for a few minutes. All in all it can be there, in order to keep the focus on the two protagonists, but you have the feeling that you don't even have time to enjoy them.
In short, if you have not yet gone to see it and maybe even have a slight hatred towards war films, try to give a chance to 1917 because it may surprise you. The spectator finds himself in front of a film so well made that it involves even the most skeptical of detractors, taking him by the hand and dragging him to the bottom of the abyss of the trenches of the Great War.