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Oscar-nominated film review: '1917' questions war rather than glorifies it through story of 2 soldiers in WWI

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"1917" is a war drama nominated for Best Picture at the 92nd Academy Awards. The results will be announced at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 on ABC Network.

Editor's note: This article is the first of seven film reviews that are The Daily staff's top picks from the 92nd Academy Awards nominees. The final results will be announced at the annual ceremony, streaming at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 on ABC Network. 

“1917” is not the typical war movie, full of lengthy battle scenes and grisly deaths. Instead, it manages to capture the human spirit in war through its use of witty dialogue, skillful camera movements and intricate set details. 

The film is nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Cinematography. It also won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Drama, making it a frontrunner for the Oscar.

1917” follows soldiers Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) as they carry out a secret mission in the middle of World War I. New intel shows that a battalion of British troops, the same unit that Blake’s brother is a part of, are marching into an ambush. 

With the communications line cut, the two men have no choice but to traverse no man’s land in an effort to warn the troops of the trap. The men encounter tripwires, hostile aircraft and enemy soldiers as they race against the clock to save the lives of 1,600 men.  

Director Sam Mendes is no stranger to dramas and action movies alike, with films like “American Beauty” (1999) and “Skyfall” (2012) in his repertoire. “1917” is a bit of both, with action-packed moments alongside moments of reflection and silence.

Designed to look like a single continuous shot, the movie is a fast-paced adventure that allows the audience to be fully immersed in the world on screen. 

With no cuts or pauses, it is easy to get lost in tension as the minutes tick by. When a sudden gunshot or explosion occurs, the characters and the audience members alike jump in surprise at the interruption from the mission. 

Critically acclaimed actors Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch play small, supporting roles as military leaders who, while essential to the plot, have very little screen time. It is almost as if they are passing the torch to the new generation of actors as MacKay and Chapman take center stage. 

The film’s lighting is incredibly well done, with beautiful moments of juxtaposition when a fire illuminates a ruined town or plane flies overhead and casts a shadow. However, Mendes also uses the lighting to take the film’s meaning to a new level. 

At one point, Schofield wrestles with a German soldier in almost complete darkness. The audience can only make out the silhouettes as they fight to survive, depicting not a battle between two nations but between two men.

While war movies tend to blend the line between good and evil, “1917” portrays the struggle to save lives, not take them. The film does not glorify war but instead raises questions about the futility of it.  

Somehow, the film is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, a true testament to Mendes’ skill and vision.

The Daily staff's full list of reviews from the 92nd Academy Awards nominations:

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