In 1998, I was a young, wide-eyed innocent taking my taste of the big New York City apple. I had a super crush on a long, dark ponytail wearing Calabrian. His super smoky skin, his buttery accent, a perfect smile that belonged on a dental ad, and those eyelashes lining his almond shaped coffee-colored eyes. Whoa doggie, I was in the puppiest of loves by the time he finally asked me out. Even before we showed up to the cinema, all I could think about was the end of the night with the classic The Crystals tune as soundtrack to my girlish fantasy.
He took me to see Saving Private Ryan. Brilliant, impeccable, genius Saving Private Ryan. Subsequently, I never talked to him again.
That is how much I hate war movies.
How did I give up love with one of the most handsome human creatures I’ve ever seen, but now find myself head over heels for 1917? It’s one of the great mysteries of life—but, I’ll say this much, this war epic is destined to be a global masterwork.
Academy Award-winning director with the golden gaze, Sam Mendes, (American Beauty) erects his hyper-focused lens to World War I. With an almost supernatural attention to detail (right down to the French girl’s fingernails), Mendes infuses the viewer in a heroic adventure that’s so grand the heart is gripped by every beat, every impending danger, every iota of grief. (Mendes, meanwhile, should be given every director’s award there is. They should create awards for him based on his exquisite storytelling.)
Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) is set on a task to stop the 1600 men who plan to attack the Germans—which unbeknownst to them is a well-laid trap. Blake decides to take his friend Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) to deliver the important message and save those lives, including that of his older brother.
It is a two-man journey. One is fully committed; the other does not fully appreciate the stakes.
Recently, I traveled to Chicago to interview Mendes and the stars of the movie—and featured on KCTV5’s Better Kansas City. We chatted about how I take so much joy in the romance genre—and how I have not, in the past, enjoyed war dramas and how 1917 has changed my heart. When I told him that Kansas City is the home to our National World War I Museum and invited him to visit, Mendes expressed not being able to take any more war after being so fully immersed in the crafting of the tale.
Reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan in its concept and All Quiet on the Western Front in its display of the battle grounds, 1917 pulls in tight on the storyline. We don’t see a bunch of bodies being blown to smithereens, we don’t meet a ton of different soldiers and learn about their backstories. Instead, Mendes strips down the narrative of any bells and whistles. It is only the three of us on that mission through No Man’s Land. Will we make it?
The script, penned by Krysty Wilson-Cairns (pictured with a copy of IN Kansas City Magazine) and Mendes, is a needle’s point, sharp and threading together the profound pieces of the human cost of war. The viewer is not shown a field, but asked to stand in it, to breathe the stifling air that bristles and venture for a conclusion that we may not reach. The risk is immediate, the tension palpable.
During my interview with Wilson-Cairns, meanwhile, she was a fiery flare of energy, so enthusiastic about her opportunity to write such an effecting war movie that is singular in its vision. She mentions she was delighted to be a writer welcomed to a table where she was the only artist sans Oscar. What incredible company to be in. The quality of their collective vision is clear.
1917 is a true film and must be enjoyed the first time on the big screen. It makes expert use of sound and silence and is a symphony of light and shadow. It’s told detail-to-detail from the mud caking along their boots to the rotted corpses of men. The film continuously tracks along with the action—think one long continuous shot that often gives an unflinching view of the horrors of war.
Thinking about Kansas City as the home to the National World War I Museum and Memorial, 1917 makes it even more definitive what a warrior is and what heavy responsibilities they bear.
With a touch of humor to cut the intensity, the twists of fate, the most riveting trickles of water and dirtbag rats, Mendes and Cairns craft a tale of suspense and participation that is more romantic than even my beloved Hallmark movies. 1917 is more than war—it is life viscerally journeyed through the bowels of chance and in the end, we are confronted with such an important, but sometimes easily forgettable human truth: nobody can make it out here alone.
Rated R for graphic depictions of war, 1917 opened January 10 in wide release.