We Just Watched… 1917 (2020)

1917 is the latest film from Sam Mendes (now a knight of the realm) and longtime collaborator Roger Deakins. Following two soldiers in WWI as they undertake a treacherous journey across No Man’s Land and beyond, the film is probably most well known for it’s unique style. It’s shot to appear as one entirely seamless shot (apart from one crucial cut in the middle). Some have dismissed it as a gimmick, but the talent behind the film argue that it serves to reinforce the horror of war. Whatever you think, everyone seems to agree the film is a brutal ride.

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Jack says: ‘1917′ is a a theme park ride from hell, a ghost train you can’t get off as it leads you through apocalyptic wastelands strewn with all manner of horrors. George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman initially draw you in, as we witness this landscape from their eyes (or just over their shoulders) as they crawl through mud and barbed wire, navigate through craters and rivers full of bodies, and run from bullets and the onslaught of the Germans. The level of period detail is insane. The characters will walk the length of the trenches and every inch of the frame is filled with something happening, something pulling you into this world. The film is also stunning to look at, thanks to the cinematography of Deakins.

The effect of the unbroken shot it not a gimmick. As I mentioned, it’s a ride you can’t get off. When something disastrous happens in a film, a cut or change of scene can be an escape, a chance to catch your breath. But here, something horrible will happen and you know it won’t cut. You’re stuck watching every second of what these characters experience. There’s no way out. And be warned, the film goes to some very intense places.

Like ‘Gravity’, a film that also tried something experimental, I’m unsure what the staying power of ‘1917’ will be. Like a ride, they’re often not as fun the second time around. But the film is definitely an experience. See it on the biggest and loudest screen you can because it’ll lose something watching it at home. This is the film ‘Dunkirk’ was supposed to be.

Becca says: I was ready for the “one-shot” method in this film to distract me simply by being in awe at how damned difficult shooting it would have been. While this was a little distracting at first, I was soon lost in the effect it created and instead I was in awe of the film’s beautiful backdrops. There was one scene where one of the main characters is back-dropped by the broken ruins of a small town, which are lit up with fire in the night time. Its like a screensaver, or that point between a game cut-scene and when you actually get to play. You just want to jump into that world! Then, of course, you remember its a war film and not really something you want to jump into. 

Do prepare yourself, though, if you’re as awful as me with loud noises. Every time a gun sounded, I was out of my chair!  

Tom says: After the personal disappointment of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, I was not particularly excited about 1917 when I first heard about it. The long take narrative gimmick put me off even further (Dunkirk’s three timeline gimmick was perhaps the worst thing about it). But let me be clear now; 1917 is a much superior film to Dunkirk and it might even be the best film of this season’s Oscar race. 

Soon-to-be-Sir Sam Mendes and his team have crafted an exciting, visceral, and occasionally heartbreaking ode to the heroes of World War 1. Dedicated to his Grandfather, it’s clear to see 1917 is a very personal film to Mendes and you can see the attention to detail and care put into every single frame. The long take narrative no longer feels like a gimmick but rather a tool for the audience to understand the horrors of this war and the lengths these men went to. The complexity of some of the set pieces is astounding; one particular scene within a burning french town will go down as one of the best war scenes of all time (and perhaps one of the greatest moments of cinematography in Roger Deakins’ entire, already fantastic, career).

George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman as the two young protagonists are both excellent. Chapman’s Lance Corporal Blake begins the film as the stories lead, as both men set off to alert Blake’s brother’ (and 1600 other soldiers) about an impending German ambush. The film cleverly pulls the rug us about half way through the film, as George McKay’s quite Somme veteran, Lance Corporal Schofield is suddenly thrust into the lead role in one of the saddest and most affecting scenes I’ve seen all year. Within the stellar direction and amazing cinematography and brilliant set pieces, I worry the quiet but excellent performances of the leads will get missed. The film is also stuffed full of little cameos by British acting royalty like Colin Firth, Mark Strong, and Benedict Cumberbatch who all, despite only tiny amounts of screen time, leave a lasting impact. 

This Oscar race is turning out to be one of the best in a while. Between Joker and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 1917 will have it’s work cut out for it in the 10 categories it’s been nominated. It’ll sweep up at the technical awards but beyond that I believe it deserves more. Perhaps even the all-important ‘best picture’ award. Do yourself a favour and check it out. And see it on the biggest, loudest screen you can find.  

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