Both World Wars of the 20th century have continued to provide boundless stories for films. You’d think there would be nothing left to say with hundreds of movies examining the wars from all angles. Making Sam Mendes’ latest directorial effort ‘1917’ stand out is its visceral intensity. With a small ensemble cast and a tightly focussed narrative, ‘1917’ successfully adds another layer to the danger and folly of war-time heroics.

In 1917, the First World War still rages. William (George MacKay) and Tom (Dean Charles-Chapman) are two British Lance Corporals sent on an important mission. The soldiers are tasked with hand-delivering a message to a Battalion warning them of a German ambush. Criss-crossing land filled with mines and enemy soldiers, the duo chart treacherous terrain with their goal forever seeming out of reach.

Based on a relative’s stories, ‘1917’ is clearly a passion project for Sam Mendes. Whilst its tale of comrade-ship and war’s brutality is nothing new, Mendes ensures the film feels more personal. William and Tom rely on each other for survival and how they push through the constant horrors they witness is remarkable. This is more potent due to its factual truth with the scars of battle on those who actually participated lasting a lifetime.

Although the actors and story are consistently compelling and Mendes’ direction sublime, the real star of ‘1917’ is cinematographer Roger Deakins. You are thrown into the midst of the grimy, bloody trenches from the first frame with stunning photography throughout with the visuals bringing a genuine sense of danger and death the soldiers faced. ‘1917’ is a purely cinematic experience that even the world of streaming will not be able to compete.

Even though it occasionally feels somewhat slowly paced, ‘1917’ is like a throwback to older style film-making. Despite the grim subject matter, ‘1917’ succeeds due to its epic feel and never-ending tension. Its frank depiction of the battlefield ensures it stands out from a litany of war heavy contenders.

Rating out of 10: 8

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