It is an experience. It is also not new. Gravity, Mad Max: Fury Road, Dunkirk and now 1917 – all belong to the same immersive style of cinema where you’re thrown into a situation and are experiencing everything through the protagonist’s point of view. You get one of these every year. Sam Mendes makes this one unique through his one-shot continuous-tracking gimmick.
However, 1917 is not a feature-length movie that was shot in a single take. Mendes tries his best to make it seem so by masking over obvious points of transition. They are there if you know what to look out for. There is also an extended black-out period in the middle of the run-time which aims to highlight the fact that a significant amount of time has passed. Which makes sense, because the story-line of two soldiers passing through no man’s land and covering miles of ground to deliver a message will not take place in just two hours of real-time. So why bother employing an obvious novelty that can be picked apart quite easily? Because it works.
1917 might just be my favorite war movie ever. The tracking shot’s inclusion manages to add a whole new level of realism and tension. Picture a continuous shot of two soldiers who start walking from a field, where they were initially resting, passing by make-shift barracks, where soldiers (who’re currently on a break) are undertaking daily chores. The frame stays focused on the main characters yet the background changes seamlessly, progressing into a more sombre atmosphere as they continue making their way into the trenches.
Sam Mendes’s and Krysty Wilson-Cairns’s screenplay depicts the morbidity found in the aftermath of a battle (picture rotting corpses in trenches, decomposing white flesh and an unsuspecting rat crawling out of the gaping chest cavity it created) as well as the brutality of an active war zone where one well-aimed artillery bullet can take out dozens at a time. Roger Deakins’s surgically precise cinematography is a welcome addition in a movie where I was expecting countless shaky cams. I miss his scenic western shots but we can’t have everything.
1917 puts you front and center inside an active conflict, hands you a straightforward mission and pulls you in for a military experience you hope you never have to be a part of.
Rating – 4/5