Don’t brush it off
These were the only things I knew about 1917 before actually seeing the movie:
- The trailer (it’s a war movie, which, as great as the genre is, isn’t exactly new)
- The Golden Globe win and
- That it was supposedly filmed in the style of one long shot
While the second point made me think about seeing the film, it was the third the genuinely piqued my interest (I also heard that Birdman uses the same technique).
With the movie having been touted a “traditional” favorite at this year’s Oscar’s over Parasite’s uphill battle (which, arguably, is a popular fan choice—let’s not bring Joker into the discussion). The figurative roadblock was clearly mentioned here by director Bong Joon-Ho at the Golden Globes: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.
That being said, does 1917 really deserve the street cred it’s getting? To put it bluntly: Yes, I think it does.
A lot of things add up to a great piece of film
Before going into a deep dive, I will say that 1917 has many good things going for it: the camera work, acting, music production—pretty much everything is worth some sort of praise outside the usual nod that a good movie often gets. Director Sam Mendez does an excellent job of bringing everything together under one vision.
The music, in particular, feels like another character in the movie, saying the right thing at the right time. The production and sound make you feel like you’re in the thick of an actual gun fight or trying to listen for some sort of rodent in the dark. The movie elements come together to make this film nothing short of immersive. I personally would go as far as to say that you should see this in theaters as much as you can, not on a (legal) streaming service.
It’s worth the money.
The leash effect of the “single” tracking shot
I love it and I hate it at the same time. As we follow British soldiers Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), we are forced to almost be the third member of their group, without pause. I thought this was awesome and nerve-wracking at the same time. If they went into a dark room, I was there with them. And if they’re unaware that someone follows them into that dark room, just like them, I can’t tell. This feeling kept me on my seat for about 75% of the movie.
While it takes a bit of getting used to, the resulting shot looks seamless and is easily one of my favorite things about the movie and, apart from that, seeing things unfold in real time is quite eye-catching. Meanwhile, the production and cinematography seem to really capture what a setting in World War I would be.
Taken altogether, these elements add up to a visual spectacle, not the glitz and tech effects that a lot of films present us with. Instead, 1917 is a very well-polished moving image of the past.
Warning: Cameo spoilers ahead
As the movie started, I have to admit that I didn’t really recognize the two main actors. I sat in my seat and thought, “Well…Oh well. I don’t know what to expect, but let’s go.” So I went in with just the expectation of seeing another Golden Globe winner, albeit not a star-bannered one. Two things worth mentioning at this point: 1) the number of big names in this movie were actually a lot more than expected and 2) while the bigger names definitely call attention to the screen, MacKay and Chapman definitely deserve their share in the limelight.
While watching though—I have to come clean—I did the head nod tandem with “Oh, it’s Mr. Benedict” or “Whoa, wait! That’s Robb Stark!” every time a big Hollywood name popped up. I was both surprised and impressed because I was already so immersed in the story that I didn’t expect (or need!) a big name onscreen to share the attention.
There is a lot of this in 1917, almost to the point of becoming slightly distracting. If the movie had stretched on, I would have started to expect and second guess when to spot another star but, thankfully, I didn’t get a cameo overdose as the story was closed at the right high and at the right time.
Awards aside, it's a great watch, especially if you like camera tricks. If you enjoy the tense atmosphere and storytelling that goes with epic wartime movies, this is right up your alley. And to reiterate, even if you aren’t into tricks and the combat, 1917 is so well made that I would still pay good money to watch this movie.
Words Yosu de Erquiaga
Art Alexandra Lara