8/10 “1917” is a rare war film. Not only is it from WWI, as opposed to the more popular WWII, Vietnam or current wars but it is also not based on a true story, as most war films tend to be. So I firstly praise this film for its originality in conception, design and execution. Having the film appear to take place all within one shot (with a blacked out break about halfway through) was a brilliant idea, even though it gave the cast and crew a much larger challenge than if they just decided to shoot the film normally. If you look for the hidden cuts, you will be able to find several of them, but the sneaky editing is still very impressive. There are not many films that go for the one or few take(s) method, going back to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” and as recent as Best Picture winner “Birdman”. I enjoy watching films that pull it off and “1917” does very well. The cinematography from Roger Deakins is the best of the year and he certainly deserved his second Oscar win for cinematography. Speaking of cinematography, basically everything on the technical side of this film is flawless. The production design recreating the demolished towns, the downtrodden trenches, the body laden battlefields, etc. The costume design’s meticulous details of all of the military uniforms and everyone who has a place in the film. Thomas Newman’s Oscar nominated score, which heightens the film with its somber beauty punctuated by bold punches of drama to catch you off guard during the more intense scenes is fantastic. This film has a choreography to it that one take films have to have but instead of just settling for the camera following from behind, the camera moves in front, shoots up high, rotates 360 degrees, etc. The acting is phenomenal and I loved how big name actors like Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden and Benedict Cumberbatch were used sparingly, as to not overshadow our main protagonist(s). George MacKay truly leads the film and turns in stunning work as you can feel his exhaustion, heartbreak, determinism, fear and more. Many moments keep you on edge as you wait for something to happen and when they do, you are often still surprised that they did. So while I definitely recommend this great film, it still has some problems that prevent it from being the film that should win Best Picture at the Oscars. First off, the plot has minor shades of “Saving Private Ryan” except that film had more character development where you got to know the team. Since our protagonist ends up alone for most of the picture and doesn’t have many people to talk to or get to know for extended periods of time, we don’t get as much of his personality as we would like. We do get more of it in the first half of the film when he has a partner to play off of so I am not saying he didn’t get any character development but his development is lacking and none of the other characters get any (understandable) since they pop in and out so quickly. I also wonder if the film weren’t shot as a one take film but instead normally, with dozens of cuts and edits, if the story/script would be able to stand up as much on its own. There would still be very impressive elements to admire but I think the one take element is what carries this film. I won’t fault the film for if it didn’t have the one take element since it does but a film’s strength should mainly come from the script, as opposed to the presentation. There were a few minor nitpicks that won’t take away from your enjoyment but are worth noting. Our lead character’s mission is to deliver a letter. At one point he gets completely submerged underwater for a decent amount of time. There is no way his unprotected letter wouldn’t have been destroyed from water damage, yet when he dries off, the letter is perfectly fine. There is also a moment when that same character is in a completely destroyed town, talking to a French girl. First off, him being able to understand, but not speak French seemed super convenient and second, he hears a bell tower chime to let him know what time it is and that he has to hurry off. Who the Hell is ringing the bell? The town is demolished and no one in the military would be concerned with that, so that felt a bit unbelievable. Finally, the British Army is convinced that they have the Germans on the run and are on their way to a surefire victory, yet wouldn’t them being pelted with artillery in their trenches demonstrate that the Germans aren’t necessarily in full retreat and are bunkered down somewhere? Our lead character also walks towards someone in the dark who we can’t see who it is. When the shadowed figure begins firing at him, instead of shooting back with his rifle, our lead character just runs. Some of his decisions baffled me. In the end, the flaws are there but don’t prevent the audience from enjoying so many impressive, technical aspects that the film has going for it. The script could have used a few more corrections but the direction on display is stunning and this film should prepare itself for a few wins come Oscars night.
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