The new war film “1917” is unlike any war movie you’ve ever seen before due to one unique filming technique. It’s also earning a lot of awards season buzz.
Director Sam Mendes has filmed the World War I drama as if it was all done in a single take. This means there are no cuts to other scenes or flashbacks or jumps in time. The camera stays on its two main characters for the entire film, with all the grit, blood, mud and ugliness of war on full display.
The trick was worth the effort, making for a really visceral film.
It’s WWI and the German army has laid a trap by feigning a retreat. In less than 24 hours, a British Battalion of 1,600 men will charge straight into that trap unless command can get a message across any lines calling off the attack. Two British soldiers are chosen to deliver the message in person across nine miles of dangerous No Man’s Land.
“1917” stays up close and personal with those soldiers — played by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay — for almost the entire film, and it is definitely a unique experience. There is rarely a frame of film that doesn’t feature at least one of these two men, even if it’s just a close up of their boots or hands. The film follows their entire trek through enemy territory and that’s what makes “1917” truly unique.
The average movie would jump forward in time to find another action scene. Or it would cut to other characters in some other location to expand the story. But “1917” does not go in for any of that. We follow Chapman and MacKay’s every step.
This technique heightens the impact of the movie. It builds tension and really lets the audience get into their heads. If they can’t see the sniper taking shots at them from across a blasted out township, then the audience can’t see the sniper. If they don’t know what’s around the corner of an abandoned German bunker, then the audience doesn’t know what’s around the corner.
If they have to get down and dirty in the mud to make it across enemy lines, then the audience is in that same mud. It’s a really neat movie experience.
As for the overall film, “1917” is impactful, though I didn’t find it truly amazing. It features all of the grit and humanity one expects to see in a serious war film, with moments of triumph and tragedy. It’s definitely a good watch if you particularly enjoy war movies.
“1917” has already won a Golden Globe for best drama, and it is among the nominees for the Best Picture Oscar. Both of those are good signs that this is a film worth checking out.