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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 1917 is an outstanding World War I drama that makes viewers feel like they're experiencing what it might really have been like to be in the trenches on the front lines. Director Sam Mendes wrote the screenplay based on the stories his grandfather told him about being a runner in the British Army. The camera follows the young soldiers in one long tracking shot, making it feel like you're right in the action. Consequently, it all feels very real, and tension runs extremely high. Battle violence is graphically realistic, including shootings, strangling, stabbing, bombings, etc. Wounded soldiers are bloody, missing limbs, and crying in pain. Soldiers smoke (accurate for the era), drink, and use strong language ("f--k," "s--t"). Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth make cameo appearances alongside stars George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman.
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Is it any good?
About 15 minutes in to this movie, it dawns on you that this is something uniquely brilliant; by the end, it's clear that Sam Mendes has made one of the best films of 2019. That's largely because of the innovative cinematography: The entire film is one long tracking shot. Of course, there are edits, as imperceptible to viewers as they might be. And, honestly, whether or when the film stopped rolling isn't the point -- it's the effect. As the camera follows the two British runners trying to get across a German-occupied battlefield to deliver their urgent message, it moves around them -- in front, behind, next to, sometimes around a rock or a slightly different route but keeping the soldiers in view. It creates the video game-like feeling that you're the third runner on the mission. The first-person viewpoint transforms the experience of watching 1917 into something intimate, just short of interactive. Cinematographers aren't often household names, but Roger Deakins might just become one thanks to this Herculean accomplishment.
Given that the film is essentially a one-direction journey in which the camera rarely stops rolling, the production design is a real feat. Smoke and mirrors can't possibly exist: We follow Blake and Schofield through a looooooong trench, a maze of a barracks, and French countryside that's ravaged from the wages of war. The actors are all superb, but MacKay will rip your heart out as a low-ranking officer who's resentful of his assignment but rises to see his mission through, no matter the potential sacrifice. Teens may be reluctant to see a movie about World War I, but 1917 could be a game changer: It's hard to imagine anyone won't appreciate its originality, heart, and grit.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about World War I. How was it different from other wars? How have you seen it depicted in the media before? How does 1917's portrayal of it compare?
Did you find the movie's violence realistic? How does the impact of this kind of violence compare to what you might see in a horror or superhero movie? Why do you think the filmmakers chose to show the violence in this way?
Why do you think the filmmakers chose their unusual camera technique? How did it change your experience as a viewer? Do you think it was effective?
How do the characters demonstrate compassion? In the heat of war, is compassion a luxury, or a necessity? How do you think Blake should have interacted with the pilot?
Talk about examples of teamwork in the film. Why is it important in the film, and why is it an important skill in real life?
- In theaters: December 25, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: March 24, 2020
- Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Benedict Cumberbatch
- Director: Sam Mendes
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Great Boy Role Models, History
- Character strengths: Compassion, Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, some disturbing images, and language
- Awards/Honors: BAFTA, Golden Globe
- Last updated: April 22, 2020
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