Director Sam Mendes’ recent movie release, “1917,” is making quite a buzz in the movie world for its continuous shot cinematography and raw portrayal of a day in the life of a World War I soldier trying to save lives.
“1917” opens with two soldiers under a tree, and it ends under a tree.
Lance Corporal Blake, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, receives orders to report to General Erinmore, played by Colin Firth.
Lance Corporal Schofield, played by George McKay, joins Blake as his battle buddy. The General tells them that the Germans have abandoned their line to draw British soldiers into a trap. He has no way of transmitting this information to British units pursuing the Germans in their phony retreat; he must send runners.
Blake has until dawn to deliver the General’s orders to abort the attack and save 1,600 soldiers — his brother among them.
“1917” is a visual masterpiece, and the one-shot style makes the viewing experience different from your average war movie.
Scenes of ethereal beauty juxtapose with the repulsive reality of battle, and the continuous shot brings viewers close enough to blot out the larger events happening around them.
This narrow focus is both an asset and a liability to the film.
It builds so much tension and utterly absorbs attention. You can’t see the whole picture, and you strain to take everything in. Events jump out at you, making you jump in your seat and blindsiding you in a way that leaves your mouth open and eyes wide — that is the point.
This limited, constant view of events gives the audience perhaps an inkling of how disorienting and uncertain such a situation would be.
However, the narrow focus proves a liability for similar reasons. You get the feeling that more is going on, but you can’t see it. Would the story benefit from showing the larger picture? Absolutely.
If the camera were to zoom out and show more of what’s going on — with Blake and Schofield, in particular — then we might have more rounded characters instead of mere men on a screen following orders. We might understand why Schofield was so reluctant to join Blake, and why he seemed outright hostile or completely unengaged at times. There are clues throughout the film, but not enough to form a close connection with a character you’ve only spent two hours with.
I can’t help but see the film as nothing more than an exquisitely executed shot. If we knew more, it could be the epic by which critics use to compare all films of the decade. But alas…
Overall, I enjoyed “1917.” It lacks in character development and has its plot-holes, but still manages to pull you in with an absorbing visual diversion and some surprises along the way.
I rate films one of three ways: 1 – I don’t like it, 2 – I like it, or 3 – I love it.
I rate “1917” as a 2. I liked it, but it’s not a film I will return to again and again.