1917 Review


The gimmick of a one-shot film can be good or are bad. It works for small films like Hitchcock’s Rope and Inarritu’s Birdman. But 1917 isn’t a small film, it’s an epic World War I film. There are so many ways that a one-shot war film can go wrong, not just in filming but in pacing and storytelling as well. So is 1917 able to overcome these odds or is the one-shot film simply a cheap gimmick?

Thankfully, Sam Mendes’ one-shot movie isn’t a gimmick at all. 1917 is a technical masterpiece and a cinematic experience that must be seen on the biggest screen possible.

1917 follows Blake and Schofield, two English World War I soldiers that are sent on a mission to stop an all-out attack from happening or face the consequence of hundreds and hundreds of soldiers falling into a German trap.

1917 - Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay

Although the film is grand in scale, the one-shot element makes it a more intimate film. We’re able to get up close and personal with these characters. So everything that happens to these characters, it feels as if we’re a part of it too. Every bullet shot and every random explosion will surprise you much as it does our heroes. At the same time, we attach ourselves to these characters quickly as the emotional and witty dialogue gives our heroes some relatability. So when things go sideways, you’ll be at the edge of your seat hoping that nothing bad happens to them. Anything can happen in war after all.

That’s the other effective element of the one-shot method. We get a first-hand look at the ugliness of war. As the camera follows Blake and Schofield through the war-torn lands of France, you’ll see the deadly effects of war around them. In other words, as the camera pans across the landscape to keep our heroes in the center of the frame, you may see decomposing bodies come into the frame or black smoke in the background. This kinetic way of filmmaking is what pulls you into the film.

Needless to say, it’s also Roger Deakins’ incredible cinematography that immerses you in the film. Although I’ve been talking about the one-shot element a lot in this review, just know that you’ll completely forget about it as the film progresses. You’ll be too busy investing yourself with these characters and admiring the scenery. It’s a remarkable thing that Mendes and Deakins have put together.

1917 - George MacKay

As intimate as the film is, it’s Thomas Newman’s score that truly makes the film the epic war saga that it is. Thanks to the one-shot element, there are plenty of quiet moments in the film. So to convey the tone of a scene, Newman uses his score to play on our emotions. In other words, he speeds up the score when things get tense and he slows it down when things get emotional. It’s an effective score that adds another fantastic layer to 1917.

But cinematography, story, and score are useless without a fantastic cast. Thankfully, 1917 features two performances that could potentially lead to Oscar nominations. Chief among them is George MacKay, who gives his absolute all in this emotionally and physically demanding role. MacKay portrays his character with softness and determination that you can’t help but root for the guy. Dean-Charles Chapman also brings a similar determination but on a more personal scale. You can see through his eyes how much he wants to succeed in his mission.

Overall, 1917 is easily one of the best films of the year. It’s a film that’ll grab you and pull you in until you’re emotionally drained from the intense emotional roller coaster that you just watched. This is a cinematic experience in the truest sense of the phrase. With all this talk of what is “cinema”, then look no further than this as an example. It’s a film that must be watched in a communal setting like a movie theater. Once you’re there then buckle up because you’ll be going on a wild ride.

Rating: 5/5 atoms

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