When you start off in a calm green field with Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George McKay), it’s unsettlingly calm. You know 1917 is about war and are almost thrown off. However, the illusion of peace is quickly shattered as both are called to their general. Their mission (should they choose to accept it) is to get to the frontline trench 9 miles away by morning to stop a surge forward as it’s a German trap. The twist: Blake’s brother is one of the 1,600 men they need to save.
The “gimmick”/ “style choice” for this film is that Sam Mendes has produced it to be “One Shot”. This means that it looks like the whole film is a continuous shot (or two). If you look carefully, it’s not difficult to see where the scene transitions are, but it does still work well, as it did in Birdman. Said gimmick really does well at setting the scene. In the tight, narrow trenches, you follow your heroes around these narrow at the beginning. You see people sleeping or injured in the mud and hear the way they talk. It feels like a pressure cooker. Mendes directs it brilliantly. Your eyes are naturally drawn to the smaller details. The choreography throughout such scenes are so elegant that it almost looks effortless. Once you leave the opening trench, the camera pans around our heroes to establish each set piece. The low angles and contrasting micro and macro focuses allow you to notice the scurrying rats and the background cast.
The camera never cutting also provides immersive tension. Even if a bomb goes off, we shake with the rest of the setting, not going towards another shot. It makes it feel legitimate, like any race against time is against your unedited real standard of time, unlike a film which jumps between scenes. However, we don’t get two hours of pure tension. These tense action sequences are brilliantly offset by calmer moment. While these may feel like filler, they are so important in looking after the audience. It never takes long in any of these scenes to descend into life and death situations.
The soundtrack is one of the best of the year as well. It helps build the tension when it needs to. It varies its louder and quieter moments with a very classical score, matching the rest of the art. It almost feels like the score is being played by people who are watching the film live.
While both characters are well established, Chapman’s delivery left a little bit to be desired. However, this didn’t annoy me too much as McKay really carries the film from the beginning to the end. His development as a character and transformation feels real. It isn’t just a typical boy becomes man story. It feels so much more than that.
If an incredibly made film isn’t enough, this film provides the male equivalent of Love Actually. All young male British actors will make a cameo, such as Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch. All of them feel natural and immersive… Until you see Pete from Gavin and Stacey.
It’s Pete from Gavin and Stacey
An experience you have to see in the cinema, 1917 is beautifully made, using every shot it can to build up tension and makes each minute feel like a very vital minute used. This all leads to one of the best made scenes in Cinema which will transcend time. [Grade: A-]