1917 (AU - MA15+/UK  15/US - R)

In a Word: Worthy

1917

George McKay stars as Lance Corporal Schofield in '1917'.

Timely given World War I's recent 100th anniversary commemmorations, the Sam Mendes-directed 1917, following the time honoured tradition of war movies like Saving Private Ryan, is an intimate look at the experience of the ordinary soldier, this time in the so-called "Great War".

With the action spanning little more than a single day and night, the film is told through the eyes of a couple of British lance corporals (Schofield, played by George McKay, and Blake, played by Dean-Charles Chapman) who are sent across only-recently evacuated enemy lines in France with an against-the-odds mission to deliver a message which could save hundreds of lives.

"It's not as immediately confronting as Saving Private Ryan was from the opening scenes nor does it carry the psychological sense of overbearing tension that the more recent Dunkirk  so successfully conveyed. Instead, this is a a ground-level expose of the horrors of what took place in those five years of madness in the early 20th century (and have since been seen in various parts of the world ever since)."

Despite the tight time-scale, it proves an action-packed journey - so much so that, at times, it could stretch credulity if one had time to stop and think. The up-close-and-personal scale of the film is emphasised by the tightness of the camera work which rarely moves into a wider shot, instead allowing suspense to build around its very limited view.

Mendes plays around with the surreal nature of war, contrasting scenes of death and devastation with the seeming peacefulness of the countryside that lies just a short distance away. Visceral at some moments and other-worldly at others, there's a haunting element to the movie which manages to successfully - and powerfully - convey the inhuman nature of the battlefield.

While Chapman and, particularly, McKay's characters dominate the action, there's plenty of well-known faces to be seen, albeit briefly, in supporting roles - Colin Firth gets an early appearance as General Erinmore while Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch also play officers encountered along the journey.

It's not as immediately confronting as Saving Private Ryan was from the opening scenes nor does it carry the psychological sense of overbearing tension that the more recent Dunkirk  so successfully conveyed. Instead, this is a a ground-level expose of the horrors of what took place in those five years of madness in the early 20th century (and have since been seen in various parts of the world ever since).

Certainly worthy of accolades - but perhaps a little overhyped (this film was not shot in one take), 1917 is nonetheless a stirring and sorrowful account which brings home afresh the appallng terrors so many had to endure in World War I.