“1917” begins with two young British soldiers asleep under a tree and in a minute or two you realize you are watching one long tracking shot with no edits as they wake up and make their way to their commander for instructions, played well by Colin Firth.
All 110 minutes of this remarkable film is designed to look like one long continuous shot in real time as the soldiers fight their way behind enemy lines to deliver a dramatic life saving message. Their journey is intimate, bloody, epic, and a white knuckle experience for the audience.
Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road To Perdition,” “Skyfall”) has created a total immersion style of film that rarely lets the audience breathe because time is of the essence and death is faced at every turn.
His narrative is based on personal stories told to him by his grandfather about World War I and features in-depth performances by George MacKay (“Captain Fantastic”) and Dean-Charles Chapman (“Games Of Thrones,” “The King”), who seem to be running constantly for their lives.
But, the star of the film is the direction by Mendes and the cinematography by Oscar-winner Roger Deakins (‘Sicario,” “No Country For Old Men,” “The Shawshank Redemption”) which not only enhances the grim specific task these soldiers must endure but the overall misery of World War I.
Expect multiple Oscar nominations in all the technical areas of film making along with Mendes and Deakins. Their work is as good as Nolan’s “Dunkirk” and you have to go back to 1998 and Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” to find a worthy cinematic adversary.
You might argue a “one take” style film is a gimmick but I would argue, not in the case of “1917.” The technique works beautifully as a maneuver to get us closer and deeper into the trenches. These are brave, exhausted men and there have been millions of them.
At one point you will long for them to just close their eyes for a brief moment and find rest under a tree.
Gary Cogill is an Emmy award-winning film critic, speaker and film producer. His wife, Hayley Hamilton Cogill, is a sommelier, wine writer, and educator. Together they host “Cogill Wine And Film, A Perfect Pairing” podcast on reVolverPodcasts.com while living on Hawaii Island in Waimea.