1917 - Reviewd By Dj Mack




1917 is directed by Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty), stars George McKay and Dean Charles-Chaplin, and follows two soldiers during WWI who must deliver crucial information that will save the lives of almost two thousand men, that is presented as one continuous take.

The one continuous take aspect is what sold me here. Shot by the masterful Roger Deakins, who most recently won his first (long-overdo) Oscar for Blade Runner 2049, I was absolutely sold given that this was the next huge project he decided to tackle.

This movie is most impressive. Its presentation is kind of revolutionary, given that the entire film *literally* follows its two protagonists as they venture out to No Man's Land during WWI. The scope here is wholly epic, and the imagery is stunning. The cinematography here is not only the best aspect of the film but in my opinion, already has locked itself to win that award later this year. A lot of the camerawork reminded me as if I were playing a videogame of the same subject matter. The way the camera constantly follows the protagonists in and out of action, conversation, and more felt like a seamless transition between gameplay and cutscene. 

Saying all that praise, my biggest issue here is the story. Without the one-take aspect or Roger Deakins' cinematography, I'm not sure this movie would be able to stand on its own. The plot is simple, and barely anything more than what I've already described. This film is much less focused on character or emotion, and more concerned about creating a visceral experience/ environment. The reason why I have a gripe with that is because it is possible to get both those things right in a war film. Case in point, Dunkirk. While both these films are different, they also have very similar tones and subject-matter. The story here isn't bad per se, but I just wasn't as emotionally invested as I would have liked to be. 

The acting here is quite solid. Scott and Chaplin both deliver excellent performances, that I cannot imagine ever doing, assuming their acting was as physically demanding as the film leads on to believe. The supporting cast is great too, and interestingly enough, every other actor in this film gets pretty much only one scene, given the nature of the story it's telling. That means incredibly recognizable actors like Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong and more are only in the film for 2-3 minutes each, yet they all leave an incredibly lasting impression. 

The way this film also stages dialogue scenes was very cool. Given the one-take aspect, the way this film compensated for traditional shot-reverse-shot dialogue scenes was incredibly interesting to see play out.

While 1917 may not be the greatest war film of all time I had maybe set myself up to think, it is indeed an absolute technical marvel thanks to the mastery Roger Deakins brings to the table here, as well as Mendes' beautiful direction. I just wished I liked the story more than I did.


Inspired by stories from Sam Mendes' grandfather who fought in World War I, 1917 is directed by Sam Mendes, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Krysty Wilson-Cairns. The film's defining feature is that it was shot and edited to resemble a single continuous take from start-to-finish. The one-take approach has been implemented before (most famously in Birdman), but never quite like this. Though the technique may seem like a cheap gimmick, what Sam Mendes and his crew have accomplished is nothing short of incredible and unlike any war film I've ever seen. As Christopher Nolan did in Dunkirk, Mendes seems keen on ushering in a fresh perspective on the war genre.

Now, I feel it's important to note that this film isn't literally filmed in one-take. There are some hidden edits along the way, just as there were in Birdman, and one clear cut that's remarkably effective. That said, renowned cinematographer Roger Deakins and Nolan's frequent editor Lee Smith found some very creative ways to maintain the illusion that everything was filmed in one go. Even though I recognized the filmmaker's cheats around shooting an actual one-take, I couldn't help but be awestruck by the craftsmanship on display. Every technical aspect of this production is incorporated to the fullest, culminating into an experience that's explosive, immersive, and intimate. Maneuvering the camera through such a long stretch of land as it's forced to follow the subject every step of the journey is plenty impressive. But as I considered the nitty-gritty contributions required to pull that off, my appreciation grew substantially.

An element of 1917 that's being somewhat overlooked is the production design. Due to the nature of the one-take, the filmmakers can't cheat by hiding incomplete pieces of the set. Everything is on display. Visual effects were likely used to extend portions of the set. Still, practically an entire battlefield had to be constructed with careful consideration for blocking actors and guiding the camera to pull this off. The claustrophobic and chaotic conditions of the trenches make this feat all the more outstanding. Considering George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman sustain performances for such lengthy periods, their work may not garner the attention it deserves either. The supporting cast is excellent as well, but none of them face the same challenge to the rigorous extent that MacKay or Chapman does.

Additionally, there's the matter of lighting. Roger Deakins had to factor every inch of the set into his layout. Though Deakins has the advantage of select edits, there are still lengthy sequences filmed in a single take with specific lighting demands for the entire duration. Whereas Birdman was mostly confined to a theater and the streets of New York, Deakins is forced to reckon with a sprawling tapestry that's ever-changing. To no one's surprise, Roger Deakins rises to the task and meets the impossible demands, cementing himself as one of the greatest living cinematographers. And I can't conclude this review in good conscience without applauding the versatile score composed by Thomas Newman. Newman's music ranges from bombastic to ethereal, underscoring the frenzied state of war and the serene moments whenever soldiers Lance Corporal Schofield and Lance Corporal Blake can catch a breath in their hurried quest.

If it weren't already clear, director Sam Mendes manages the ambitious production without a single misstep. A few plot conveniences aside, I fail to think of a single issue that plagued me after sitting on my thoughts for nearly a month. Everything works. I hesitate to call it a masterpiece, but Sam Mendes' one-take First World War epic is undoubtedly a stunning, cinematic tour de force! Above all, it serves as a stark reminder that filmmaking is a coordinated effort. And when everything comes together this nicely, something extraordinary is born that'll inspire generations to come.

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