Sam Mendes, director of “Skyfall” and “Spectre,” pulls off the impossible and makes a film look like it was all done with a single shot. Mendes’ new film, “1917,” is an ode to the many message-running stories told to Mendes by his own grandfather, a World War I veteran.
The film follows the pairing of British troops Lance Corporal Blake, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, and Lance Corporal Schofield, played by George MacKay, as they are tasked with delivering a message to a cutoff regiment before it charges head-on into a German trap. One of the troops in the regiment is Blake’s brother, Lieutenant Joseph Blake, which motivates the two characters to deliver their message on time.
As the characters make their journey, they come into contact with characters played by notable British actors such as Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch. These cameos act as checkpoints for Schofield and Blake as they continue on their journey. While the appearances of these highly anticipated actors are certainly exciting, the film found them in small cameo roles which prove effective as they do not take away from the two leads and their journey.
The story itself is fairly small in the context of World War I, but to the viewer it feels quite the opposite. With making one feel right beside the pair of soldiers, we are as invested as the leads are as they try to make it to their destination in time. The viewer is running to beat time with them and it is thanks to this technique that intensifies this feeling.
The main appeal of this film is it seemingly pulls off the impossible task of having the entire film done in one shot. In actuality, the crew behind the camera had to follow an entire set of choreography to maintain the single-shot feel. But that is still an impressive feat on its own, making the viewer feel as if they are on the main characters journey with them.
Every time the camera moves in or out without breaking the “one-shot” the audience feels it. They feel the terror the protagonists are feeling as bullets are shot at them. They feel uneasy as they cross into no man’s land to get to the German line, and it feels like the audience is crossing the battlefield with them. Without this gimmick, the film wouldn’t be getting as much praise and award buzz as it currently is.
The performances and sound design also deserve praise. With any war film, sound design is a key aspect and it is obviously a major one in this film. Every gunshot, explosion and plane flying overhead can be heard and felt by everyone in the theater. This remains true during the quieter moments, such as one scene where a barn can be heard burning down in the background without distracting from the dialogue being exchanged in the scene.
As for the acting, both Chapman and MacKay deliver great performances despite being somewhat standard characters. Chapman’s character, Blake, is the talkative, likable, determined soldier who wants to save his brother. MacKay’s character, Schofield, is the quiet, reserved soldier who is along for the ride.
The real standout is MacKay as he conveys so many emotions with just his facial expressions and his body language. But this doesn’t mean that Chapman doesn’t give a good performance with the time he is given.
I would recommend “1917” to someone interested in World War I or any type of war movie, or anyone who wants to watch something that will keep them on the edge of their seat for two hours. I highly recommend seeing it while it is still in theaters because that is, by far, the best way to experience it.