1917 Breaks Ground on the War Epic

1917 is a miracle in filmmaking. Never have I been so deep-seated in a journey through the shrapnel-infested bloodshed of war and my theatre chair at the same time. I blame it all on the camera work.

The camera puts you right there.

As British soldiers Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) deliver a message to higher authority to end an invasion against a retreating German front that will end up being a deathtrap for thousands, the camera follows their every move. We follow their every move. Through grimy puddles, carcass-filled craters, and skeletal town structures, we “walk” behind these men and see everything they see in a continuous shot of happenstance, action, and coincidence.

It is all too real.   

I have so many questions and theories regarding when a shot began and when it ended. Except for one intentional and effective cut to darkness at the hour point, the movie progresses in real time, simultaneously exposing the actors and the audience to the surprises on the battlefield.

Rehearsals must have been hell.

As you can gather from the title, we are talking about a World War I movie, and although the historical allure might not be the same as a WWII flick (say, Saving Private Ryan), there are subtle, haunting images in 1917 that match even the cinematic genius of Steven Spielberg. The deathly quiet crawl through “No Man’s Land,” the distant fighter plane dogfight that comes way too close for comfort, and the timing of falling cherry tree petals on a peaceful river – these are all unfeigned observations in a cold, war torn setting.

The mythical but possible story of two brave men with a message to avoid the Hindenburg Line disaster (technically, German’s deceiving tactic, “Operation Alberich”) comes from Director Sam Mendes’ grandfather, Corporal Alfred H. Mendes of the 1st Battalion, who wrote several novels and short stories about his days in the trenches. Although Sam took some liberties with the two-person hero narrative, it is a historical fact that several waves of British armies were convinced they were defeating the retreating Germans and not walking into a more fortified German union. It is a fascinating turn of events, and with the Americans joining around the same time, it helped end World War I all together.

Sam Mendes might be best known for his work in American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002), Jarhead (2005), and Skyfall (2012), but 1917 stands out as a masterpiece of the ages for the ages. I haven’t been so moved by a film in a long time. I haven’t been so moved on a technical level, emotional level, cinematically, or even musically.

I have never been so moved to see a movie for a second time.

1917 ***** out of ***** (Groundbreaker Status)

1917 was released on the west and east coasts on Christmas day, so it is theoretically a 2019 movie. Regardless, this is the best film of 2019, and if it counts as a 2020 movie, it will most likely be the best of this year as well, and we just got started.

35 thoughts on “1917 Breaks Ground on the War Epic

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    1. For me, it hit all the technical, emotional, and historical levels, but, yeah, it probably doesn’t land in the Top Ten of all war epics ever made. It sure was an engrossing experience in the theatre though!


    1. Seriously! It broke the mold on a technical, emotional, and musical level! Thank you for following me. I look forward to reading more of your writing! I’d see 1917 five times more than Parasite, haha


      1. I agree I do not like war movies but this one was amazing and I saw it depicted in ways I never knew that war had played out.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you liked it! How about that scene where the German soldier realizes he is looking at the enemy through the smoke and starts coming after us. The camera somehow jumps into the trapdoor with our protagonist even though there is no room, and then it keeps following him! Astounding!

      Great to hear from you as always. School has me tied up, but this is a bland time for movies anyway. In a way, January is “No Man’s Land” in film.

      Best to you and keep rockin’ the classic hits!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And when he falls into the water…that is astounding as well. There will be people trying to copy this movie…the way they did it.

        Bailey loved it as well. He has corresponded with the cinematographer through email. He is going to see it again.

        Have a good one.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Whoa! That’s awesome about Bailey’s communication connection. The cinematography was breathtaking. How one shot captured the detail of the trench grit and then panned out to miles of landscape the next second – all in pure focus!

          I’ll be seeing it again too.

          You too!

          Liked by 1 person

        1. Three quick things: I saw the movie last night with my best friend who I have known since kindergarten. His wife’s name is Bailey 🙂

          2. Your Bailey is correct – the cinematography is absolutely stunning. At first, there is a closeup of the dirt and grit of the trench, and then there is a twenty mile radius of the battlefield – all of it in focus! Roger Deakins. Okay, Bailey has really good taste. Every movie he’s done is one of my favorites! He’s a Coen Brothers’ companion!

          3. I’m seeing your recommendation of 41 tonight! Kenzie is out of town, working a service project, so I’ve been catching up on my indie films…

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I liked 41… It’s pure Indie and a nice movie. I love time travel movies and they did it with a budget… let me know your honest opinion of it.

            Yep Bailey went to school with other female Baileys…He was like Dad…why is my name a girl name lol when he was younger… I think some popular female tv character was named Bailey at the time…

            Yes he knows more about movies than I do now…now when I recommend one…he has usually seen it already. Now it’s a challenge finding one he hasn’t seen.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I love smaller, indie flicks. Please let me know when you see Paddleton.

              Thank you for the clarification. I’m new to blogging since last summer, and I respect the confidence and confidentiality provided by each writer.

              Bailey is a great name. I have a female Baily and a male Bailey in my class. And, I don’t even know your name, you idiot, haha! I’m Bernie. To me, you’re still badfinger 🙂

              Does Bailey like baseball? It took me a year, but I finally got Kenzie hooked on baseball stats…

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Oh man…I thought everyone knew my name lol…my name is Max. I need to put it in my contact page. I posted something that pretty much that gave my name away a while back… https://powerpop.blog/2018/06/17/gower-guitars/

              Ok I sure will! We will get Paddleton.

              I told Bailey you were named after George Bailey…so he likes it now lol.

              Yes he does like baseball now. It took him until he was 17 to REALLY follow it… now he does. We have gone to see the Dodgers a few times over the years in Atlanta and Cincy.

              Liked by 1 person

            3. Incredible story about those guitars. My dad does Johnny Cash impersonations at dive bars in Denver. You truly appreciate music, its instruments, and its history, Max. Until next time, Bernie

              Liked by 1 person

            4. I really enjoyed the small budget feel and creative ideas behind 41. It reminded me of Primer – a non-CGI look at time travel and ordinary people. Thanks for the rec, Max!

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Do you remember when he didn’t answer the French lady’s question about having children? The ending gave me a lump in my throat and such a joy of speechless response. I still have yet to hit the UK before I die. I love the British. I love football (soccer), and I just love your positive impact on our world history.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I noticed that too. I’m not sure I felt so joyful come the end, more numb. I really thought it was going to end with him failing to deliver the message on time, as a sort of ‘futility of war’ statement… And yes, I’m watching the afternoon’s football as I write this! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I knew the history behind it, despite the movie’s entertaining added liberties, but I didn’t see half of the continuous shot surprises coming. I’m an Arsenal fan – I had three piano students who had a dad from that area. That’s my American to Premier League connection. I’ll go with it, even though that team couldn’t be anymore frustrating.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Is it a true story…? Amazing. I have a soft spot for Arsenal, mainly because I can’t stand Man Utd and the Gunners were the only team who could stop them winning for several years. They are a ridiculously frustrating team, yes, but when they click…

            Liked by 1 person

            1. The story of the deceiving German retreat is true, but the two soldiers heros running to give the message may have been fabricated a bit. Agreed about the Gunners. My arch enemy is Chelsea…

              Liked by 1 person

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