‘1917’: World War 1 in one shot

'1917' is rated R, to see '1917' you must be 17 years old or older to see without an adult.

Jacob Rengstorf

Sam Mendes is an interesting director. He’s made films that I enjoy but never a film I love. War films have always been interesting to me. Two years ago Christopher Nolan released Dunkirk a phenomenal war film that I love. 1917 feels like a response to Dunkirk, the same way Skyfall felt like a response to The Dark Knight. Unfortunately 1917 didn’t impress me like Dunkirk. 1917 is directed by Sam Mendes and stars  Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, and Daniel Mays.

1917 follows two soldiers as they try to deliver a message to stop an attack. The plot is simple and I prefer simpler plots in war films. What normally makes up for a weak plot in a good war film is either the spectacle, the tension, or the characters and unfortunately 1917 doesn’t really deliver any of these consistently. Most of the film consists of characters just wandering around spouting cliche dialogue. The two main characters are not well developed at all. I would of been okay with this if the film delivered spectacle or tension like Dunkirk but it doesn’t. The only development the main characters get are in unnatural exchanges while they are wandering around. The score wasn’t very memorable. The score was there, I remember there being music but I can’t remember a single cue from the score.

The main marketing gimmick of the film is how it is edited to seem like the whole film is one shot. I love films that attempt things like this and succeed. A great example would be Birdman. Birdman doesn’t rely on the gimmick though. Birdman has great characters, great writing, and an overall interesting and well told story, 1917 does not. Mr. Robot has a great episode that seems like it’s all one shot and it works way better there as well. These examples hid their cuts well, I couldn’t even tell where the cuts were my first time watching these examples. In 1917 however I noticed many of the cuts. They are very obvious and honestly distracting. There is one shot that is so distractedly bad I physically rolled my eyes, it’s when the main character jumps into water and the cgi looks so bad and honestly embarrassing. They even do a straight up cut to black in the middle of the film. The one shot gimmick loses its magic when the story itself just isn’t that interesting. 

Now the movie isn’t horrible it does have some good aspects. The Cinematography by Roger Deakins is very good. Roger Deakins is my favorite director of photography. He’s made amazing looking film such as: Skyfall, Sicario, and Blade Runner 2049. This film has good cinematography but not nearly as good as Roger Deakins’s previous works. There is a segment of the movie where the main character is going through a city at night and the only lighting is a constant stream of flares and a burning building. This sequence was very interesting to watch. The lighting was amazing because the flares would change the shadows almost for the entire scene. The scene also featured some beautiful uses of the color orange. The few scenes that had action or spectacle were very well shot and seemed like they took a lot of preparation. One sequence in particular towards the end where the main character runs by a trench is very impressive. Overall what they pulled off here visually was very impressive.

Overall 1917 is not horrible. It’s a by the numbers war movie with an interesting gimmick. While I didn’t like the film there are many that did and I can see why. The visuals are great and there are some genuinely great one takes. However the story itself just isn’t that good. The characters are underwritten and the film doesn’t make up for it with tension or spectacle. I enjoyed watching the movie but it isn’t one I’ll be revisiting or probably remember in a few months.