Made to appear as one unbroken take, Sam Mendes’ 1917, statedly based on the experiences of his ancestor who served in the First World War, follows two English soldiers travelling across the Western Front to halt an advance by two Battalions that will lead them into an ambush with the opposing German forces.
The novelty and talking point of the Oscar front-runner being cinematographer Roger Deakins’ powerful gauntlet throw, unlike other films taking place in one unbroken stride, among them Australia’s Watch the Sunset and the far superior Victoria, 1917 excels for lending the technique to an environment and narrative where it is more immediately urgent and relevant. The effort of following these characters along their physical journey from point A to what transpires as point B and everything in between involves us in the physical consequence of their experience in a distinct, compulsive way from what the still effective use of montage can achieve and moreover so when we’ve tumbled so far as to reach a final, dramatic destination.
In fairness, much of the appeal of the aforementioned films remains witnessing the technical thrill of their actually being shot in one fluid take. From a narrative perspective the style begets 1917 and though there are actually numerous takes at play here, the achievement is still a stellar technical marvel.
It being obvious to seamless at certain points where the junctures lie, viewers will no doubt have a time speculating as to the cuts’ positions and number. Individual lengthy takes too bearing their own effect through the types of elongated, weaving and far from static tracking that would not be possible but for the expertise involved and backing, a venture along a ditch and into a bunker prove highlights among many.
Reaching its peak when things go dark, as well captured as the daytime images are there’s simply nothing so good in Deakins’ oeuvre as that he can achieve amidst darkness and flickering and/or propulsive light, as seen only years ago in Blade Runner 2049.
Too reaching another height when the focus shifts primarily to one of our two central figures, while one is a fairly straightforward, earnest visage, the other is wholly more interesting for being conflicted as to whether he can or should undergo the mission at all. His arc proving most involving and rendering this feature much more than a gimmick and a travel, as characters are want to do, between two places, 1917 is an exceptional film worthy of accolades.
1917 is in cinemas now