Director Sam Mendes jumped back in the directors’ chair for the first time since taking on the previous two bond movies of Skyfall and Spectre. The former of those two movies is phenomenal while that latter left a bit more to be desired out of the beloved action star 007. As a result, Mendes decided not to direct the impending Bond project (set to release in April) and instead take up a new project. I am so thankful that he did because 1917 is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Let’s get into the breakdown!
One Take Wonders
For those of you that have already seen 1917, you probably noticed the incredible style of cinematography and storytelling that was on display in this movie, but you may not know exactly how it was executed or how impressive it really is. This movie was shot in a way that made it look like it done in a single take. Most of the time the camera just followed around our lead characters on their journey. There was no switching of camera angles or fade-outs to a new scene. Instead, there was a single camera, that followed and turned as needed to make the audience feel like they were in France watching the events through their own eyes.
Now, of course, this 119-minute movie isn’t filmed on just one cut, as that would be pretty much impossible for a movie with this many moving parts. But to construct it in a way that makes us believe that it is all one take is such an incredible feat that can’t be understated. There is only a single hard cut in the entire film, and it happens when our main character hits his head and is knocked unconscious. Mendes said that he chose to include this single hard transition in order to show the passing of time and change the tone of the movie from something realistic to something that could look more surreal, to the point where the audience might question if our main character was actually awake or just hallucinating. Outside of that, Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049, Sicario, Skyfall, Shawshank Redemption) had to get extremely creative to hide their scene cuts. Cuts were hidden by having a soldier pass in front of the camera, passing through the light into the dark of a bunker, and splashing into the water, etc. This method of storytelling worked perfectly to make a short story of two soldiers taking on a mission that involves transporting a message from point A to point B in less than 24 hours. What is just a blip of time in the grand scheme of the war, is scaled to a bigger level by allowing us to experience the journey through the eyes of the soldiers that embarked on it themselves. To our main character, this mission probably would have re-defined his entire life, and that is how the audience experiences it.
Saving Private Blake
If you have seen a trailer for 1917 you have probably seen Colin Firth telling a couple soldiers that they have to get this message somewhere before 1600 men, including a soldier’s brother, walk into a trap. Sounds simple enough, however, there is so much more going on in this film than I could have ever derived from the trailer. It is supposedly loosely based on a story that Sam Mendes was told by his grandfather and WWI veteran Alfred Mendes, though the characters’ names and specific events were all constructed for the movie. The pacing of the film is something that could have easily been problematic, but they executed it perfectly. There are plenty of intense and suspenseful highs, as well as a couple of emotional moments where the audience catches their breath while never fully letting their guard down. I absolutely loved the choice to slow down for a second and allow the audience to get a glimpse of what our main characters are fighting for. He meets this French woman that is hiding in a cellar with a baby that seems to have been separated from her (most likely dead) parents. He spends only about 5 minutes with this woman but it turns out to be a great change of pace that provides some emotional perspective for the audience.
Simply put, 1917 is the best movie from 2019 in my opinion. It is a masterful piece in film-making that takes a relatively tiny event in WWI and tells the story in a way that makes that puts the audience in the shoes of the soldiers that directly experienced it. 1917 is the perfect example of a movie that needs to be experienced in theaters. A lot of people these days choose to forgo the price of paying for theater experiences in favor of illegally streaming everything from their laptop at home just because they can. As much as I personally hate it, you can’t really avoid it in this day and age. This movie, however, is one that you have to experience on the big screen to get the full experience. The incredible cinematography is what drives the movie, combined with a score that probably will be fractionally as impactful from your living room speakers. It is a little gory and gruesome at times, so keep that in mind if you can get squeamish. GO PAY TO SEE THIS MOVIE AND YOU WON’T REGRET IT!