1917 is a damn good movie. By focusing on a microcosm, a tiny slice of story within what was otherwise a ‘world’ war, it creates incredible cinema. The cinematography by Roger Deakins is fantastic. The production design and set staging are mind-boggling. The music by Thomas Newman is perfect, enhancing and influencing the viewer but never overwhelming the narrative or the performances and never demanding your focus.
The conceit of appearing as a one-shot movie is broken a few times, and you can tell when they’ve pulled a few switches, but more importantly, the very long shots are effective far beyond the buzz they helped generate for the movie. The long shots are not a gimmick because they create a level of immersion that most movie-making can only dream of. You see the actions the way you would if you were there, like a ghost hovering amongst the actions. The lack of cuts makes the directing much more transparent to the viewer (by which I mean unseen and unfelt, not ‘exposed’) and truly creates a bond between the viewer and the protagonists.
The two main actors, Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay perform wonderfully. They and director Sam Mendes (always damn good, but the laser focus of the story here really highlights the sheer quality of his emotional heft) should be recognized as having produced an incredible work.
I hate war, and most war movies elicit nothing from me except disdain and sometimes disgust (like the lying pseudo-patriotism of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan – Look up the story of the Sullivan Five to see what I mean), but 1917 isn’t a war movie at all. It’s a movie about two young men caught in the midst of a war, their responsibility towards one another, the sheer tragedy of the circumstances around them, the humanity of their choices and the price they pay for those choices, and about one man’s determination to get from A to B, first to save lives, and then to honor a friend, the brave faces that responsibility puts on people even when their souls are crushed beyond any hope of repair.
Sad, moving, and beautiful.