During World War I, Lance Corporal Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) is told that his brother’s battalions is about to walk into a trap set by the Germans. They will be massacred. Because the phone lines are cut, he and his friend Lance Corporal Will Schofield (George MacKay) are ordered to cross no-man’s land to warn them.
The Germans have withdrawn as a way of setting the trap. The two friends set out, making their way through the gruesome and corpse-strewn no-man’s land, though other soldiers warn them they have no chance of surviving. Will it be safe to use the German trenches? How can two lone soldiers hope to make their way through enemy-occupied territory to warn the other battalion?
1917 is the most immersive war movie I have ever seen. We are right there with them with seemingly impossible close-ups as they make their way through mud, rats, water-filled craters, claustrophobic trenches, and mutilated corpses. At no point was I aware that anyone was acting. They simply were the soldiers going through hazard after hazard, thinking they will be shot at any moment. The film is done in a continuous style, so the movie gives the impression it was done in two or three shots—no shifting to other viewpoints or convenient scene cuts.
This goes right up there with Saving Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers as the most realistic war movies. Some of you have sat through the horrifying first twenty minutes or so of Saving Private Ryan, but I have to warn you, the state of the corpses shown makes Saving Private Ryan look like a coming-out party. Hours later, I still feel stunned.
As long as you know what you’re in for, I recommend 1917.