Sam Mendes Brings World War I To Theaters in “1917”

Katerina Gebhardt, Entertainment Editor

In the realm of war movies, directors and producers tend to veer towards movies about World War II and other, more recent conflicts. However, director Sam Mendes has presented a film about a much less covered but all too important war: World War I. Mendes’s film “1917” has stunned audiences for its brilliant story, acting and cinematography, and has been nominated for Best Picture for the Academy Awards. 

“1917” takes place in a very specific moment of the war, and is only partly based in fact. Two soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George McKay) must deliver an urgent message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) in order to call off an attack that would end in the loss of thousands of British soldiers. The two soldiers must travel through the treacherous No-Man’s Land and war torn France, encountering both danger and allies along the way. 

The movie appears to be filmed in one shot, giving the appearance of the action happening in real time. The cinematography and directing involved in such a feat is brilliant, and it makes the audience feel as if they are right in the middle of all the action. However, the constant movement of the camera has a dizzying effect during many action scenes, making it hard for viewers to concentrate on what is going on. Despite this, the film is highly immersive, and in the age of streaming, it brings a cinematic experience that is best seen in a theater rather than at home on the couch.

Given the real-time effect, “1917” does a good job keeping the plot simple so that audiences can follow along. However, this often makes the plot move too fast, with the audience still trying to process the previous scene. Because of this, many heavy and serious scenes get lost in the surrounding excitement. Additionally, certain scenes can get bogged down with the introduction of major characters such as high ranking officers, and it can be difficult to remember the names of major characters. However, the straightforward story and constant movement of the plot (however fast) keep viewers engaged and on the edge of their seats. 

In order to give the movie more authenticity, Mendes chose two relatively unknown actors to play the main characters, so as to give the impression that they were two ordinary soldiers. Additionally, Mendes’s choice of Cumberbatch and Colin Firth as head military figures adds to the comparison of the two low ranking characters and their famous leaders. McKay and Chapman are brilliant leads, conveying the stress and fear of the war.

In addition to a Best Picture nomination, “1917” has been nominated for Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay and Best Visual Effects, and rightfully so. Mendes’s film brings World War I to the big screen in a unique and extraordinary way, and has started off the 2020 year of movies with a bang. In a legendary feat of storytelling, acting, directing and cinematography, “1917” has taken its place among the best war movies of all time.