1917 is a war film directed by Sam Mendes starring George MacKay, Dean- Charles Chapman and several other high profile British actors. Like many of Mendes’ films, this was shot by Roger Deakins and composed by Thomas Newman. 1917 has been receiving lots of award buzz and may even be the frontrunner for best picture.
One of the major talking points going into the film was the one-take and it does not disappoint. Not only does Deakins manage to make the entire film look gorgeous but the one take adds a whole new layer to the film. The one-take along with the meticulous production design and realistic dead body make-up makes the audience feel like we’re right there with the characters. The one-take also heightens the tension during several sequences like the trench run towards the end of the film. Furthermore, Deakins is renowned for his use of light and there are some sequences here that are nothing short of breathtaking. The use of flares and fire to experiment with lighting during the Ecoust sequence was jaw-dropping and is, in my opinion, one of the greatest sequences of the last decade in film.
Understandably, there was a lot of attention on the cinematography and one-take gimmick during the marketing campaign. Because of this I was a little worried that the film wouldn’t have much going on besides that. Fortunately, 1917 enhances the experience by having believable characters and some incredibly powerful moments. One of my biggest issue with Dunkirk was the complete lack of character. I don’t need the characters to sit around a camp fire and talk about their families but I need some personality. Some motivation. With 1917, the character motivations are establish right off the top and you get a sense of their personality. A lot of credit goes to the two leads. Many of the major stars like Cumberbatch and Madden only get a scene but even then the relationships and character dynamics are so clear. 1917 also works due to the several powerful emotional beats between the massive set pieces.
Part of the reason why I felt the tension and emotion that the movie wanted me to feel is Thomas Newman’s score. The man has frequently collaborated with Mendes and this might be one of their best collaborations since American Beauty. It increases the intensity of so many of the set pieces and the final track “Come Back To Us” might be one of the most moving tracks for any score this year. Put together with everything else, the score creates some unforgettable images and elevates a fairly surface level story into something truly impactful.
Overall, 1917 is a technical masterpiece that manages to use its one-take gimmick and every aspect of filmmaking to create an immersive experience for the audience. I’m not sure how well it will hold up on a repeat viewings due to how thin the narrative is. But right after my first viewing and after sitting on it for a while, I’m going to give 1917 a 9.7/10.