Two young British soldiers during the First World War are given an impossible mission: deliver a message deep in enemy territory that will stop 1,600 men, and one of the soldiers’ brothers, from walking straight into a deadly trap.
Director Sam Mendes pulls off an amazing feat by presenting this story with a pair of single sustained shots, each lasting over an hour, which allows the viewer to share the horrific journey of two young soldiers, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) who have been sent across enemy lines to deliver a message that will save the lives of 1600 fellow soldiers, in an unique intimate manner. While this technique initially calls attention to itself, the story is so engrossing that the viewer forgets about it and gets swept away. Mendes captures the horrors of this war, rendering a seemingly alien landscape, one ravaged by violence to the point that it is unrecognizable. The film’s final hour loses steam and is beset by more than a few narrative lapses it ultimately can’t overcome. Still, this is a worthwhile epic best seen on the big screen.
There are so few films that tap into the personal stories of WWI, and this is one of them. We see these two young men, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay) fight to save not only their own lives but those of 1600 fellow soldiers. It’s a race against the clock and against all odds as we witness, seemingly in real time, the atrocities and dangers of war during this time period. While there are a couple of blatant story inconsistencies that pulled me out of the film, the overall story is captivating for the first half, which appears to be taken in one fluid shot. This effect, perfected by the talented cinematographer Roger Deakins and the skillful editor Lee Smith, pulls you into each and every scene so that you can walk along side these young men. Technically and cinematically, this is pure perfection and this alone will spark an interest to delve more deeply into the history of The War to End All Wars.