1917: One Shot to Save 1,600

By: Jacob King, Special to the Chronicle

Early Monday morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released their nominations for The Academy Awards, or more commonly known as The Oscars. This year nine films were nominated for the top prize of Best Picture, and I, as a film fan and aspiring critic, will over the course of the next few weeks watch and review all of the nominees. The purpose of this exercise is to inform all of you of each film’s merit, and after viewing all the films I will attempt to predict the winner of the top prize. 

As many people know, the winner of Best Picture is not always the most deserving of that year: 71st awards gave the prize to “Shakespeare in Love” over “Saving Private Ryan”, the 14th awards chose “How Green is My Valley” over “Citizen Kane”, and the 53rd awards honored “Ordinary People” over “Raging Bull”. With this information in mind, after I have viewed all the films I will choose one film that I think will win, and if necessary which film I think should win. Knowing that all film is subjective, do not take my opinion as hard fact; my goal is to make the most well-informed guess. 

With all the context out of the way, time to actually dive into the film that this piece is about, “1917”. Directed and co-written by Sam Mendes, known for his award-winning film “American Beauty” (1999) and popular James Bond film “Skyfall” (2012), this film had me excited. Add on top of that most likely the greatest cinematographer of all time Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049”, “No Country for Old Men”, “Fargo”) to say my expectations were high would be an understatement. This film took those high expectations and blew them out of the water. 

Before I go into the specifics of why this film floored me a brief spoiler-free synopsis. It’s April 6th 1917, and the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment is planning on assault on the retreating German line at dawn. Unfortunately this is a trap, under the orders of General Erinmore (Colin Firth) Lance Corporals Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) are tasked to deliver an urgent order to the 2nd’s Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) to stop the assault, potentially saving 1,600 men including Lance Corporal Blake’s brother (Richard Madden). It’s a race against time in unknown lands with any number of dangers lurking around any corner. 

This film is shot in a way that it seems to be one long continuous shot, obviously this is not the case and a keen eye can notice where they editor (Lee Smith) hid the cuts. This use of the long take helps this films sense of constant tension placing the audience firmly with the main characters. Just like Blake and Schofield you do not know what is around every corner, and that tension is what this film thrives on. The Editing and use of special effects are blended seamlessly into the film. The sound design and score in this film really do ramp up the tension and elevate this film to greatness.

“1917” is a masterpiece and I not only recommend this film, I also implore all of you to watch this film on the biggest screen you can find. Even though my expectations were high, this film blew them out of the water. I am putting “1917” firmly in the front of my personal Best Picture choice after only seeing three of the nine films so far. Please check out more of my pieces as they come out and let us all see if “1917” can be unseated from the top spot. 

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