With 1917 Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins, create a World War 1 that is bombastic and immediate.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Long takes, depending on who you ask, are either the holy grail of cinematic technique or distracting displays of showmanship. The first group say that an elaborate one shot is the ultimate test of a crew’s skill and a director’s vision, the second that directors use them mainly as a means of one-upping each other. If the latter is true then Sam Mendes has really thrown the gauntlet down with 1917.
This is a film comprised
of nothing but long takes, with sneaky edits in between to make it appear as
one continuous shot (e.g. when a character enters a dark room). It’s not the
first time this sort of thing has been attempted. Some have actually done it
for real (see Russian Ark) but the
more famous examples, such as Birdman
and Hitchcock’s Rope, have all been edit-hiding
cheaters. So while Mendes may not be on virgin territory here, he compensates
for it with spectacle and ambition.
single-shot-but-not-really begins with two soldiers, Blake and Scofield, receiving
orders from their commanding officer. It
turns out that the Germans are retreating from their front line. This is great
news for Colonel MacKenzie who plans to have his troops chase after the fleeing
“Huns” and turn the tide of the war.
Others think the
whole thing sounds a little too good to be true, and it just so happens to be.
Aerial photographs have shown that the Germans aren’t fleeing, they’re falling
back to a new, heavily defended line. When MacKenzie attacks tomorrow morning,
his troops will be obliterated, among them Blake’s brother.
Scofield are tasked with reaching MacKenzie and ordering him to call off the assault
before it’s too late. Blake is the younger of the two, inexperienced and
upbeat. Scofield is a bit more mysterious. He has seen a lot more action, most
notably at the Somme. He earned a medal, though he doesn’t seem particularly proud
will send them over the trenches, through the enemy front lines and into the green
countryside of France. Along the way, they’ll meet German foes, Indian allies,
French civilians, and many different commanding officers, all played by actors
you’ll recognise. While they inject some gravitas into their brief scenes, throwing
in famous faces among these unknown soldiers is a tad jarring. It’s not helped
by the way the film likes to tease their faces out of shot. When they finally reveal
themselves, you can almost hear the “Ta-Da!”.
cameos, the real star here is the craft. This is as much a filmmaking exercise
as a film and it’s not the length of its takes that impresses, but their
complexity and attention to detail. Showy or not, they create an almost video
game-like sense of immersion, giving us the ability to move fluidly through
trenches and across war-torn fields, to grab passing glimpses of trench life. We
quickly meet a soldier waiting on the front line with a pipe and a dog on his
lap. You could have made a whole movie about that.
Hundreds of troops crammed into trenches, bombed out cities illuminated by fire, the dramatic charge of No Man’s Land. These images, stunningly brought to life by legendary cinematography and Coen Brothers regular Roger Deakins, create a World War 1 that is bombastic and immediate. It’s not unlike what Peter Jackson achieved a few years ago with the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, and reflect a similar wish to portray The Great War as an event that was truly lived, and not something that happened to a world of black and white.