There are more war movies than anyone could ever watch in a single lifetime. Audiences keep going to see them though, so studios keep producing them. Unfortunately the horrors of war make for a compelling subject matter. They are tales of heroism and savagery, bravery and barbarism. They need to be told with a mixture of action sequences and quiet moments of reflection. And not only are their stakes literally life or death, war movies have something to say about the human condition. When done well they can make for an incredible and moving viewing experience. Yet few war films ever reach the rarified air of being truly great. For every Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down there are dozens of films like Hacksaw Ridge or 13 Hours that seem to come and go.
Will director Sam Mendes’ upcoming WWI action-drama 1917 join the hallowed club of all-time greats, or just be another in a long line of forgettable war movies? Based on it’s latest intense trailer and unique storytelling method it has a chance to be special.
“At the height of the First World War, two young British soldiers, Schofield ( Captain Fantastic’s George MacKay) and Blake (Game of Thrones’ Dean-Charles Chapman) are given a seemingly impossible mission. In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers—Blake’s own brother among them.”
Every previous promo for 1917 has been superb. This latest trailer is no different. It’s incredibly intense and visually stunning. Also, its premise combines a story about saving 1,600 soldiers with the personal tale of a young man trying to save his brother. It’s both grand and intimate. And it also captures a brutal reality few of us will ever experience. Trench warfare defined WWI. This movie seems committed to letting the audience understand the claustrophobic horror its combatants felt.
But this trailer can’t fully convey how the story will also do that in how its presented. The whole movie will be told in one “continuous” shot, all in real time. (Think Birdman). We won’t just see Schofield and Blake on a seemingly impossible mission, we’ll be joining them every step of the way. Viewers will be going into the trenches with them as active participants in a suicide mission. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall) and the cast and crew explained how and why they took this approach in this behind-the-scenes featurette.
It’s weird to say a war movie looks beautiful. But from these trailers its clear Roger Deakins’ cinematography genuinely amazing. The fact it will be edited into one long shot is remarkable. That’s why even if the odds are against it, we think it has a chance to be one of the best war movies ever made.
The script was co-written by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (Penny Dreadful). It also stars Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, and Benedict Cumberbatch. The film comes to theaters this Christmas, December 25, 2019.
Featured Image: Universal Pictures