‘1917’ is a Cinematic Achievement for Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins

Published on January 10, 2020

The highly acclaimed war film, 1917, has arrived in theaters across the country. It’s based in part on an account told to director Sam Mendes by his paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes. Set during World War I, the story tells of two young British soldiers who must send an urgent message. This message warns of an ambush, in fact, against 1,600 soldiers. Among these soldiers is Lance Corporal Tom Blake’s own brother. 

Is It Worth My Time? 

Watch It: If you enjoy war films set during the early 20th century up to the present. This and if you can handle sights of the squeamish for others. 

Skip It: If, in contrast, you’re not all too fond of the tragedies of war, and can’t cope with images of the dead, blood, and gunfire. 

1917 has recently won Golden Globe awards for Best Picture in the Drama category, and for Best Director. Co-written and directed by Sam Mendes, 1917 is easily one of the greatest technical achievements we’ve had so far in this young century. The entire time, we only follow the mission of two young boys, played by George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman. Along the journey, every living soldier or floating corpse captures the image with haunting precision. 

Led by sensational cinematographer Roger Deakins, 1917 is a first-class spectacle. The entire film contains long takes to make it appear as one continuous shot. In many ways, both physically and psychologically, we follow these two boys on the ground from their perspective entirely. The film never cuts to scenes in the inner room with top military officials. It never cuts to a sub plot that covers secondary soldiers. These two young soldiers have a mission, and we follow them literally every step of the way. 

The flip side to this is some may rightfully argue this way of filmmaking as a gimmick. Months before its release, trailers for it played before any sort of movie a viewer was there to see, regardless of genre. Gimmick or not, the achievement of 1917 deserves an Academy Award for Best Cinematography and contention for Sam Mendes as the best director. 

Such technical prowess doesn’t mean an all-out victory, however. This is the first script Sam Mendes has writing credits for, along with up and coming writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns. While dialogue and structure never reaches a point of distraction or inadequacy, it’s also nothing to write home about. It’s clear that a viewing on the big screen is, first and foremost, meant to immerse the audience into a visual and visceral experience. 

What detracts the film a bit in terms of its script is a lack of emotional resonance. 1917 goes for heart, undoubtedly, but it doesn’t quite the reach the cinematic depths as other greats of the year. Well-written films like Marriage Story and The Irishman lead us down a heart-felt journey with a resounding pay off. In this way, 1917 rings just a bit hollow. 

Related: 20 Movies To See In 2020

In addition to production design, 1917 also contains visual effects that are exemplary and go unnoticed. 2019 surely has had other triumphs in the visual effects department. Ad Astra, The Irishman, Avengers: Endgame, and Ford v Ferrari are just a few that also match the level of CGI that 1917 contains. Still, this is a film that could run away with a win in this department as well. 


1917 without question is one of the best films of the year. It has the best cinematic experience in terms of cinematography on an epic scale. Minimalist music works to build tension, as all we want is to see these two boys accomplish their mission. While missing the depth that some films contained during the year, 1917 is a must see film of the decade for any film lover. 

Score: 8.0/10 


David Zimmerman is a Contributor at Grit Daily. He is a Portland-based screenwriter, film columnist and the founder of Zimm Score Movie Guide. When he's not writing about the big screen, you can find him nerding out with other cinephiles at local PNW breweries and traveling the world with his wife.

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