1917

With filmmaking being around for over a century, it’s difficult to find new ways to innovate. There’s not really much else that can be done. We have audio, color, computer generated effects, and digitally recreated humans to show the progress since the 1880’s. As time goes on and technology advances, it’s harder to innovate and truly surprise audiences. In order to do so, it requires the right people forming the right team to achieve something audiences have never seen before. 
 
Taking place during World War I, 1917 follows two Lance Corporals, William Schofield (George McKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), who are picked to go on a mission. This is no easy mission like they expect, though. Since the telephone lines have been cut, they’re tasked with delivering a message to a battalion miles away, in order to prevent an attack that will cost more than 1,600 British soldiers lives. Even worse, Blake’s brother Joseph (Richard Madden) is part of the regiment, so they’re not just saving their brothers in arms, but Blake’s real brother as well. 
 
The big selling point for 1917 was that it’s all done in “one-take”. Well, it’s obviously not one 2 hour long take the entire film. It’s been done before with Russian Ark, but with the sheer amount of scale here, it would have been nigh impossible to achieve your desired results. Long takes have been a trend with a lot of films lately, particularly in action scenes, but again, they’re not always long, single takes. They’re a series of long takes that are stitched together with hidden cuts (such as the motion blur of a wall when a character passes by it), giving off the illusion of one long shot.  Of course, there are going to be some hidden cuts here and there, but they’re very few and far between. These shots are legitimately long, and the way it’s presented is so seamless, that you never really notice the hidden cuts. The camera moves so freely around the characters and environment, going back and forth from wide shots, to pans, to close-ups, all without missing a beat. 
 
The single take format actually served a narrative purpose. It’s not just a gimmick for gimmicks sake, but is essential for the film’s narrative. You’re with these characters literally step by step for their entire journey, witnessing everything that they do. The fact that the camera moves around so much and never cuts really sells the immersion, where I felt like the camera was my point of view and I was walking through No Man’s Land right aside them. You never know when a bomb may go off, or when an enemy in the distance tries to take you out, heightening the tension. Every corner they turn, or any new building they enter, may have people waiting in there to shoot them at any moment. Director Sam Mendes, cinematographer-camera operator Roger Deakins (pretty much the GOAT cinematographer), and camera operator Pete Cavaciuti flawlessly instill that the feeling of being in a warzone. The uncertainty of it all. Never knowing if you’ll see your family again. If you’ll have to watch a close friend die. Randomly getting shot at by a sniper, or encountering trip wires.  
 
The enormous amount of meticulous planning that went into pulling this project off is absolutely insane. Sam Mendes has often made great films, but this is one the that cements him as one of the greatest of all time. Again, this is no small feat at all. Not even a somewhat challenging feat. Along with Deakins and Cavaciuti, Mendes had to plan out all of the camera movements, while directing all of these background soldiers running, actors reacting to what’s going on and performing tasks, all in real time. He can’t do it all, though, so it seems like they assembled the best of the best in their respective fields to achieve the one-take effect. The special effects and pyrotechnic teams had to time the explosions, the gaffer and grips had to keep up with the lighting, the actors all had to make their marks. There was literally no room for error and they expertly pulled it off. Seriously, Alfonso Cuarón and Alejandro González Iñárritu, eat your hearts out.  The most stunning shot is when Schofield runs across a field and then the whistle blows, hundreds of soldiers rushing out the trenches. It’s an inspiring and beautiful moment, and it’s all sold by Thomas Newman’s epic and rousing score. One benefit of this film being made today (it really couldn’t be possible years ago) is that we have CGI, which can cover up some blemishes and create some of the trickier effects. There is one shoddy looking sequence of a character falling off a waterfall, and this also contains an awful day for night shot for a few minutes. Shocking coming from Deakins, but still 99% gorgeous.
 
It’s also a testament to the actors, in which a majority is just the two soldiers. I haven’t seen either McKay or Chapman in anything else, but they’re both brilliant and more than carry the film. They capture the intensity, fear, tension, and hopelessness of being in war, but still having to trudge on. Like the crew, the amount of talent an actor must have to remember all of the lines, actions, and marks is nothing short of astonishing. They never miss a beat and sell every line and dramatic moment. There are a lot of moments of silence as they travel through the warzone, but they communicate everything the characters are feeling through their body language and facial expressions. You don’t know everything about their characters either, with some important elements revealed late in the film, but felt appropriate in their use. This film may be a technical achievement, but it still has a compelling story and characters. They all go through a constant growth and change, with their attitudes towards each other and the mission evolving over time. The last ten minutes are a massive emotional gut punch, making you really realize the cost of war. It’s all about the experience and the after effects of it all. 
 
1917 just might be the most impressive movie I’ve ever seen. Everybody involved are clearly masters in their craft, because this experiment of making the film seem like one take was one that clearly paid off. It’s a testament to the power of filmmaking, that great films are still around, still innovating, and will continue to do so. Is there anywhere to even go from here when it comes to technical achievements? Maybe when something of this scale is legitimately done in one 2 hour take, but for now 1917 is now the top dog of a revolutionary filmgoing experience. There’s literally nothing like it. 
 
9.5/10 

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