It’s always interesting to see that war movies do so well during Oscars’ season! Indeed, we remember such recent epics like Hackshaw Ridge (2016), Dunkirk (2017) or even Zero Dark Thirty (2012), all have been remembered for their awesome cinematography, performances and use of sound effects. So much work is needed to recreate the chaotic and dangerous set piece of war, and modern movie resources allow filmmakers a near-perfect dramatic ambiance. Well, 1917, directed by veteran filmmaker Sam Mendes (the genius who gave us the awesome James Bond movie Skyfall) is no exception here. Alongside awesome set design, costumes and performances, this Oscar contender also offers technical wonders rarely put to film: amazing use of camera and single takes. Indeed, this movie was almost entirely shot in one take, which is pretty remarkable considering the special effects needed to recreate the climax of war times at the beginning of the 20th century.
Without further due, welcome to the stressful and suspenseful reality of 1917 in German-occupied France!
We are in April of 1917, the First World War rages on in Europe. One day, two British soldiers, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George Mackay) receive a special assignment from the highest authority in their trench (Colin Firth as General Erinmore): they need to reach the second battalion of British armed forces deep into enemy lines before they launch a full attack in twenty-four hours and deliver the message to abort the attack. All 1,600 soldiers in the battalion are walking into a trap, as the German forces have strategically relocated. Soldiers Blake and Schofield, who barely know each other, will have to try the impossible and walk in enemy territory undetected and stay alive…or else the soldiers will lose their lives, including Blake’s brother.
In a single shot, or close to it, 1917 allows us to walk beside Blake and Schofield as they try to make it across the enemy lines and surpass all the obstacles that will be found on their path, including booby traps left by German soldiers, enemy snipers, combat airplanes and besieged ruins. A simple mission, but a stressful journey, wouldn’t you agree?
As soon as the first few minutes of the movie pass by, we immediately know that we are in for glory with a movie like 1917. Apart from the remarkable cinematography and lighting, courtesy of Roger Deakins (the Director of Photography who worked on the masterpiece Blade Runner 2049 back in 2017), the technical shooting technique shines above anything else we have seen recently on the big screen: 95% of the movie is shot in a single take, which is really remarkable. We know how much work on postproduction, editing and special effects are required today to assemble a movie together in modern days, but Director Sam Mendes tried and succeeded to deliver a great war film, as every department was on point during each of the scenes to deliver in a single shot. So, like a video game where we embody and follow characters so closely, we live the tragedy and chills of war like our heroes do. Hands down, 1917 offers us some the absolute best cinematography and camera work of the year.
Overall, from a technical perspective, the movie is pretty much perfect. However, since this is more like a cinematic thrill-ride than a detailed story, the movie lacks depth in character exploration in some ways. Although we care for them and their journey, we know too little on Blake and Schofield’s background to really love them to the fullest. In making it a tiny bit longer, Mendes could have made it an absolute success on every level, but it is rather close to it.
For everyone who enjoys cinema for the awkward feelings, the way it portrays reality and dramatics scares it can give us, this is the movie of the year for everyone. Now, take a rifle and hold the line gents!!
FINAL GRADE: 8,5/10