The premise of 1917 was revealed in the trailer. Two young men, risking their lives to save the lives of their fellow soldiers. Their mission entails that they stay discreet and be unobtrusive, till the end of their mission. This isn’t your typical tale of bravery and valour. In the war at most times, during most missions, soldiers are aware of the dangers. They are fighting the known enemy. Perhaps, more importantly, there is a clear plan laid out. Training is designed to prepare them.
What stands out in this mission is that Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) have no clue of what they might face next. Thousands of Nazi soldiers, planted traps, bombardment from the air or hostile civilians, it could be anything. Even if they don’t face any fire, would they reach the destination in time? That is what partly makes 1917 an intriguing film.
Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins take on through this treacherous journey. These two young men discover slowly what lies ahead. We the audience are mostly following the gaze of these two actors. Barracks riddled with explosives abandoned homes, left behind pets, burndown trees, rats feeding on dead bodies, bombed bridges, we see the destruction of war in its truest form. The silence is deafening. The shots (more on that later) linger on for that extra second, so it creates an impact.
There are some human interactions. The Germans, however, stay in the background as enemies far away. More focus is on the British. How for some personal ambition takes preference over the lives of hundreds of ‘his’ men. “Some men just want to fight”, says a higher-ranked military official to Blake.
The now-famous fighter jet scene and another one with a young mother, generate a different sense of empathy for the two men involved. There are numerous close calls that work like tormenting moments of suspense.
The technical mastery certainly helps creates that sense of nausea. As a viewer in the cinema, you will feel part of this suicide mission. The general silence makes every creak, every knock horrifying. Genuine connect between these two characters and the audience forms.
Another key moment in the film is when the two men discuss issuance military medals. “A bit of tin” is how Blake describes it when he is speaking about how he swapped it for some alcohol. “I was cold”, he adds. False bravado and the idea that society compensates families of military men who die in battle, is strongly questioned.
Given the divisions in the world, such anti-war films are needed. Sam Mendes has told a stirring tale filled with emotion and drama, without villainizing anyone beyond justification.