I didn’t know much about 1917 before attending the preview screening. Promotional details told me it was an “immersive cinematic triumph”, but everyone likes to think of their movie as a triumph, right? So that acclaim washed over me and, to be honest, I was mostly excited to treat myself to some good-old cinema popcorn.
Directed and produced by Sam Mendes, 1917 follows the story of two young British soldiers during World War I who are tasked with delivering a message to a colonel. The message requires them to trek across seemingly deserted enemy lines and make it to the camp before sunrise the next day.
I don’t think I, personally, have ever referred to anything as a “cinematic triumph” but this is one movie that truly warrants the term. And yes, the whole movie is made to look like it was filmed in one continuous take (you can read about that in more detail here). I didn’t know what that was going to entail, but it exceeded every single one of my expectations.
The scale and detail that was required to bring this movie to life, the dedication from the actors and oh my god, the REHEARSALS THIS MUST HAVE TAKEN. I was in awe within the first five minutes and spellbound to the last. The one-shot technique makes it feel like you are walking alongside the characters, running with them, being ambushed with them, climbing through trenches with them. At one point, George Mackay’s character is desperately trying to help free a truck from where it has been bogged down in mud and I was straining backwards in my chair, pushing with him as though I could lend a hand. And I didn’t realise what I’d been doing until I felt my muscles relax as the truck came free.
The cinematography and direction is incredible, but it could not truly succeed without the emotional tether of a story behind it. I’m happy to say that I was 100% invested: I wanted the characters to complete their mission and every misstep was heartbreaking. There are some big names in this film, including Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth, but realistically they each only get a few minutes on screen. George Mackay carries the story with a fortitude I haven’t felt in ages, and he absolutely deserves some award nominations out of this.
1917 releases in Australian cinemas on Thursday, 9 January.