I don’t typically care too much for war films. They just all kinda blur together without something truly special to differentiate themselves. Thinking about the few that I do love (Saving Private Ryan, The Hurt Locker, the first half of Full Metal Jacket), it’s usually some strong character work or other connection that brings me in. But there are so many classics new and old (Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Dunkirk) that I just could not get into. I skipped the recent Midway with zero intention of ever seeing it. 1917 was only on my radar because it was coming up in awards conversations. Then a friend saw it and was excitedly exclaiming how it was one of the best movies of the year. The two of us are in agreement that this has been a very strong year, so that’s a bold statement. I was skeptical until he mentioned that the film was made to look like a single take (a la Birdman). We have our differentiator!
Yes 1917 is a WWI movie, but it’s such a micro story that it doesn’t feel like those sweeping epic war films that make my eyes glaze over. This focuses on two soldiers who are given a mission to cross enemy lines and deliver a message to a nearby company. It plays out in semi-real time, and yes, all looks like one continuous shot. Once the men are given their orders, the film takes off like a shot and it is non stop. If you haven’t seen a trailer yet, DON’T. I went in pretty cold and was on the edge of my seat the whole time, no idea what was gonna happen (said friend told me they could get some plot points based on the trailer). This was tension at its best.
From a technical standpoint, this probably is the best film this year. The filmmaking is absolutely masterful (as you would expect from director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins). Each shot lasted about 6 minutes, seamlessly editing into the next, following the men thru tight trenches or open expanses under enemy fire. It’s mind blowing what they accomplished, and I spent half the film just wondering how they did it and trying to find where the few cuts were. I was lucky enough to catch this at an early screening where Mendes and Deakins were in attendance (along with editor Lee Smith) for a Q&A following. They were talking about all the work and planning that went into shooting and how they put it all together, it was amazing.
There’s a few big names in the cast: Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Hot Priest. Just know they’re only in one scene each. You really think someone in demand like them can commit to months and months of rehearsal and planning? But our two leads George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are astounding. If you’re like me, you’ll prolly spend much of the movie scratching your heads about where you’ve seen them before. Because you almost certainly have. And after 1917, you’ll know their names too.
1917 – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/