Co-writer/Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes' World War I drama 1917 follows two young British infantrymen entrenched not far from the German enemy as they follow unexpected, dangerous orders. Because normal communications are down, their mission is to sneak by foot across a northern France battlefield to warn a large British platoon away from a German trap that will mean their certain death. We're off (the soldiers and viewers!)
An exceptional cinematic work of art and craft, Mendes' war drama is most notable for being a powerfully immersive drama that ingeniously also recruits viewers for this dangerous trek through the war zone. Simulation of a single camera take and uninterrupted time line heighten the suspense. Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay skillfully play the unlucky soldiers literally under the guns to reach the Brits alive to warn them in time. Big star names like Richard Madden, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Strong -- all in lesser roles -- add marquee appeal.
But, ironically, the stars who pull in viewers also might distance some from the suspenseful on screen "reality" of the "uninterrupted" journey that the film's editor Lee Smith and cinematographer Roger Deakins have so remarkably fashioned.
Several other World War I films have been produced over the last last four years (e.g., Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, Saul Dibbs' tragically overlooked Paul Bettany starrer Journey's End, etc.) so viewers with "war fatigue" may retreat. And 1917 serves as yet another terribly depressing reminder that even powerful, similarly-themed anti-war films (All's Quiet on the Western Front, Grand Illusion and too many other classics to name) do nothing to end the insanity of war.