The musical score of a movie, as well as the cinematography, are two things that I regularly overlook when reviewing a film. I feel that dissecting these parts of the equation, makes me feel as though I’m STUDYING the movie, instead of merely watching it.
Also, I am the most non-musically inclined human on Earth.
In “1917,” it would be almost impossible to ignore these things.
The first thing that struck me while watching this movie was that the music seemed perfectly fitted with the action, and literally tripled the effect of the action on the screen.
The cinematography was also excellent, but that can be said about two or three films every year.
It is believed that Director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Jarhead,” “Skyfall”) based a lot of what this movie portrays, on stories that his grandfather told him about WWI.
So, when Mendes brings us this picture, it is a labor of love.
“1917” has done just about everything “right” in the portrayal of soldiers in combat, except some of the strategies and tactics. Any veteran will see glowing inaccuracies in the things that the soldiers do.
It is distracting, yet forgivable, as this is a really good movie, otherwise. Oscar-worthy, even.
Another negative, is that the moving parts (humans) in the trench warfare scenes, look quite a bit less muddy than their surroundings. For troops that have spent weeks in the mud, they appear almost clean.
The big gimmick in “1917” is the “one-cut’,” which can apply to the method of filming a very long, uninterrupted shot during a battle scene late in the movie, or the overall method of making the audience believe they are right there during the action.
It is a tunnel-vision camera angle, excluding the action around you and the wide-angle view of the surroundings. It is supposed to give you a feeling of not knowing what is on the periphery on the action.
This works well, but is hardly ground-breaking.
The main actors are few; pretty much the two young soldiers, and everyone else is of no consequence.
George MacKay (“Pride,” “Captain Fantastic,” “How I Live Now”) stars as Lance Corporal Schofield, volunteered by his comrade to accompany him on a detail (they thought) that is actually a mission.
Dean-Charles Chapman (“Badlands,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Revolting World of Stanley Brown”) as Lance Corporal Blake, is the other soldier of the pair, who is sent to stop an attack that is doomed to fail.
Both MacKay and Chapman do well, and it is an even better performance, because they are unknowns. We are used to seeing stars do well, but with actors we hardly recognize, it is always a plus.
The three Hollywood names here, are all second-tier players and could have been played by lesser mortals, but for the fact that they are the only names/faces that the viewers may recognize.
Mark Strong (“Low Winter Sun,” “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” “Zero Dark Thirty”) makes a brief appearance as Captain Smith, a Company Commander who helps one of the main players on his journey.
Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game,” “Dr. Strange,” “August: Osage County”) is Major MacKenzie, the end of the journey. Cumberbatch has the juiciest role of the three, although the shortest.
As General Erinmore, Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech,” “Kingsman” franchise, “Mary Poppins Returns”) sends the pair on their mission to stop a massacre, and although not as exciting as the others, it is still acting that must be done.
“1917” is an excellent movie, but not the greatest war movie, or even WWI war movie, for that matter. “All Quiet of the Western Front” (1930) and “Paths of Glory” (1957) come to mind, as well as “Wings” (1927), winner of the first Academy Awards for Best Picture (actually called “Most Outstanding Picture”).
War stories always make for great movies — from the Roman Legions to battles “in a galaxy far, far away...”
And “1917” is a great war story.