The war genre is a difficult one. Some films adopt sincere approach to capture the horrific nature of it all, as was the case with the forever renowned Saving Private Ryan, whilst others perhaps milk the explosive potential to cater to action enthusiasts; products such as Pearl Harbour spring to mind. That said, Inglorious Basterds is an example of bringing comedy into the mix with admittedly successful results, crude as it may still seem to many. At the end of the day, such a sensitive subject means films within the genre may often be seen in an overly positive limelight; thankfully, this year's 1917 is a film that certainly deserves it.
1917 brings us into World War I, focusing on Lance Corporal soldiers William Schofield (George McKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman). Both find themselves tasked with delivering a crucial message to their fellow allies to call off an attack against the German army; an attack that would lead to the unnecessary deaths of countless soldiers and merely benefit the enemy in the long run.
Writer/director Sam Mendes' latest project is refined in many ways, be it the range of masterful performances or superb production design that aids in capturing the truly hideous nature of warfare as a whole. Leading actors George McKay and Dean-Charles Chapman deliver superb performances that depict their confidence yet clear vulnerability as they journey across no man's land and beyond. Many exciting set pieces are fluently integrated into the mix; ones that know when enough is enough, thus never detracting from the film's overall sense of tension and so never allowing things to steer down the route of a cliché action flick. It's something that keeps audiences thrilled whilst also portraying this grim stage of human history in suitable manner.
One notable aspect of 1917 when it comes to visuals is a refined style of cinematography from the likes of Roger Deakins, utilising a series of long takes blended together with seamless editing from the likes of Lee Smith to create an effective depiction of a single shot from start to finish, the camera following the soldiers throughout their lengthy journey. Usage of such a technique deserves further praise considering the locations these characters venture through, from confined trenches, to the eerie expanses of no man's land, to abandoned ruins surrounded by raging flames. It's not without some inevitable flaws, including a few overlong moments where characters simply wander to the next major scene, almost like a loading screen in disguise, but for the most part it's an effective and superbly executed piece of filmmaking.
One mustn't forget the fine lineup of supporting talent, featuring Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mark Strong, all of whom perform their minor yet still meaningful roles with as much skill as you'd expect; though in the end, it's of course McKay and Chapman who truly steal the show. Such a polished cast ultimately find themselves within a heartfelt script with beautifully tender moments and a similar dose of surprisingly witty and crude humour, the latter of which actually fits nicely with the nature of the characters and never becomes too excessive. 1917 certainly ends up deserving its handsome array of award nominations, standing as a strong and thoughtful addition to a complex film genre.