OK, it does take place during World War I. And the story unfolds on battlefields and the front line. But '1917' is not a war movie. It's a personal story that just so happens to a couple of British soldiers during the "war to end all wars". And it's close to a masterpiece.
The making of '1917' is worth knowing ahead of time. This film is shot as one continuous cut. Director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty) and cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country For Old Men) decided to tell this movie at the most personal level. The camera never leaves these characters. No cutaways to war rooms, the enemy camp, scenes from home. The lens (you), never leaves these men during the two hours of their impossible mission: get a message to a general to stop an assault because it's a German trap.
This continues shot technique makes you truly feel like you're tagging along with these two men. And how it's done is a technical marvel.
But ignore how it's made (if you can). This is master storytelling. The leads, Schofield (George McKay), and Blake (Game of Thrones‘ Dean Charles Chapman) hold you. They personify fear, hope, and innocence plunged into a task that is not only strategic (save their fellow troops from certain slaughter), but personal. Blakes brother is on the front line and will certainly die in said slaughter if they don't get their message through. Both actors, especially McKay, keep you connected in an earnest and perfectly human performance.
This is not a history lesson or a beat-your-chest war movie. Like 'Saving Private Ryan', there is no glorification of war. '1917' gives you the two realities of war. Long spans of nothing happening, pierced by horrific violence and terror.
'1917' demands to be seen on the big screen. In select theatres Christmas day, and wide release in early January.