1917 Movie Review: An astonishingly uncluttered, long-take version of WAR

Published: Jan 16, 2020, 15:12 IST | Johnson Thomas | Mumbai

1917's premise is not enough for an epic-like feature-length narration but Roger Deakins' exquisitely involving, high-degree-of-difficulty, camerawork makes a meal of it - one worthy enough to bag a trunk full of Oscars.

A still from 1917. Picture courtesy/Reliance Entertainment's Twitter account
A still from 1917. Picture courtesy/Reliance Entertainment's Twitter account

1917
U/A; Historical/Drama
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Benedict Cumberbatch
Rating: Ratings

The concept of a long take (feature-length) single-shot film may not be a new idea, but its an exciting and inveigling one, nevertheless. 1917, Sam Mendes' new film is both technically accomplished and craftily executed. The technique employed here puts the primary focus, an unshakable one at that, on the two corporals tasked with getting a message across enemy lines, in time to save 1600 British troops headed towards a massacre(unwitting). It's not a strong enough premise for an epic-like feature-length narration but Roger Deakins' exquisitely involving, high-degree-of-difficulty, camerawork makes a meal of it - one worthy enough to bag a trunk full of Oscars. It's a feat of technical derring-do that needs to be seen in all it's cinematic glory - to be enraptured.

Amidst the turmoil of World War I, with the featured drama set around the "no man's land" in northern France separating British and German troops, we see two young corporals, Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Schofield (George MacKay), awoken from a few minutes of sleep and tasked with what is considered to be a near-impossible mission. The General giving the orders makes it clear that there could be a posthumous medal in it for them. Everyone along that route is only praying for the message to reach in time - no one gives the two a chance of ever coming back...

Approximately, 800,000 Brits were killed or died as a consequence of their service while Germany lost over 2 million soldiers in the war. Estimates put the total casualty numbers for both military and civilians at 40 million. This film may not be a tribute to their valour but it certainly highlights the unforgettable, equally celebration-worthy contributions that even the lowest rung 'enlisted' plays in the schema of a war. The set design and direction leave no room for doubt.

Watch the trailer of 1917

The raw ravaged beauty of a scoured war-torn landscape littered with rotting flesh, innumerable wounded, and used-up munition waste intertwined with the pain-inducing misery of being a sitting target for the vast range of ammunition set-up in readiness for annihilation, is upsetting, to say the least.

Its a viewing of horror and brutality that reflects badly on the human race. Deakins, one of the all-time greats, appears to relish the challenge put forward here and goes all out to impress.The conception meant to lend real-time war like experience gets increasingly showy with edits camouflaged by shocking events. Deakins's inventive and potent compositions accompanied by strikingly atmospheric lighting within the attempted format of a single long take, is undeniably an audacious and impressive achievement. So impressive that everything else fades into lesser significance. Is that a good thing or bad...you tell me?

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