I'd been wanting to see the movie 1917 ever since it was first released in limited run over the Christmas holiday. For any number of reasons, there aren't that many quality World War I movies out there, so this one attracted my attention.
But I didn't want to see it so much for the action, or the plot, or the historical accuracy – or lack thereof – that there might be. I wanted to see it because of a technique used in shooting the film known as a one-shot take. It's a rarely-used method of movie making that gives the viewer the impression that the movie was filmed with only one camera and in real time. There are no shifting of scenes from one character to another, no breaks in movement – just one continuous motion of cinema for 117 minutes.
So that's why I ask, how did they do that?
The movie obviously required intense planning and choreography, as well as seamless editing. Clearly, more than one camera was used: some were mounted on jeeps, some on cranes, others on drones, and some were hand-held. Whenever an actor was briefly out of the frame – passing behind a tree or building, for example – that's where the splice is made.
The result is stunning movie making by director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakens.
The plot revolves around two young British soldiers (convincingly played by relative unknowns Dean-Charles Chapman as "Blake" and George MacKay as "Schofield"), who are tasked to deliver a message to another unit to halt an attack that could result in the massacre of 1,600 men, including the brother of one of the couriers. The two soldiers have less than a day to traverse No Man's Land (they are told by Intelligence that the Germans have vacated that part of the line. Easy peasy) to complete their mission, since the attack begins at daylight the next morning.
The action is intense almost from the start, so consequently for me there is an inclination to compare 1917 to Saving Private Ryan, one of the most intense war movies I've ever seen. But this is a different kind of intensity. While SPR was graphically unrelenting, 1917 shows little wartime violence, yet builds a growing sense of urgency within the viewer.
The movie is loosely based on the wartime memoirs of Lance Corporal Alfred Mendes, the paternal grandfather of the movie director who also co-wrote the screenplay. Alfred Mendes served as a messenger (or "runner") with the 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade during World War I and who had to cross No Man's Land to find several companies that had lost contact with his own. The movie is dedicated to him (see here).
There's been a nice run of quality movies lately, starting (for me) with Judy, followed by Ford v. Ferrari, then Midway, then It's Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and now 1917.
If this keeps up, I'm going to need a raise in my allowance.