We have all seen missions which seem impossible up on the big screen. It almost comes to a point where you expect the impossible to become possible. You almost expect them to come out on top all the time. The trick for a screenwriter and director is to find a new way to tell the story to keep us interested.
Such an ask is not a problem for the veterans involved behind the camera here. First off we have director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, Revolutionary Road). Throughout his career the Brit has shown himself a really good storyteller. Taking on many different story types and film genres, he makes films which draw you in. Mendes along with Krysty Wilson-Cairns (staff writer on the television series Penny Dreadful) are the screenwriters here. They have penned a story which will have you tense, have your heart in your throat for large swaths and occasionally laughing.
During World War I in the spring of the year 1917 on the French front, two British soldiers have been given what seems to be an impossible mission. General Erinmore (Colin Firth – Mary Poppins Returns, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) tells Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman – Before I Go To Sleep, The King) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay – Captain Fantastic, True History of the Kelly Gang) that they have to get to another regiment. This rather isolated regiment is about to embark on an attack which has been set up by the Germans. Meaning they are walking into a trap and will surely all peril. Blake and Schofield have to travel quite a distance by foot to get them and only have a day to do so or 1600 Brits will die.
To add another element, Blake’s older brother, Lieutenant Joseph Blake (Richard Madden – Rocketman, Cinderella – 2015), is part of the regiment they are meant to get the message to. This makes Blake especially desperate to carry it out. Schofield, understandably, is less sure about the feasability of what they have been asked to do.
They, just the two of them, will have to cross through enemy territory. Land, which up until very recently, had been held by the Germans. This is going to be a long, dangerous nine miles the young men are going to have to traverse.
Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men, Fargo). Those are really the only two words you have to say. For film connaisseurs this means that the film you are about to watch is going to be a treat for your eyes. Everything the guy shoots is stunning. The list is long and continues to grow with every year. He is totally deserving of his Oscar nomination. Long shots which follow our two protagonists. All crisp looking. So much so that it draws you in. You begin to feel like you are right there, looking over Blake and Schofield’s shoulders. Renders the brutal beautiful. His camera goes a long way towards telling the story. Just by itself. Showing how horrible trench warfare or warfare in general is. Makes everything tangible. You are feeling this film as a result.
Right alongside the wonderful camerawork by Deakins are the sets. Set designs and the realism of it sets the table for the actors. Really allows them and the viewer to immerse themselves into the story.
The film grabs you from the beginning moments and never really lets you go. It is so realistic that your stomach is in knots wishing the best for the two young soldiers. Gives you a small window into the horror of war. Even those soldiers in the background in the trenches tell the story. Give you another layer of war. Shows how devastating a toll it takes on those involved. You see soldiers in states of shock. Showing telltale signs of PTSD. Opening crying. Fearful. Even those who don’t perish certainly don’t come out unscathed.
All this being said, I have to admit I am reaching my World War film saturation point. Not that I think the story well has run dry, but due to the fact that there seems to be a very restricted point of view being portrayed. All the stories and the only heroes seem be white males of American or English nationality. After a few goes around it all blends into one another and gets rather tiresome. There are plenty of other stories to be told here Hollywood! Get on it!