“One Shot” To Win the War

A 1917 Movie Review

Gather your rifle and your supplies to prepare for a massive journey. Sam Mendes’ war epic 1917 is a groundbreaking achievement in film-making that will undoubtedly change the genre forever.

Writer and director Sam Mendes and acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins have paired together to produce 1917, a war film that is made to look like it is entirely one shot. The story follows Lance Corporals Blake and Schofield of the British army, played by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay respectively, who are sent across enemy lines to deliver a message that will save the lives of 1600 men, including Blake’s brother. The two embark on a perilous journey that takes them through a war-ridden No Man’s Land, a destroyed city towering in flames, an abandoned farmhouse and through enemy trenches.

The film also recruits stars Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andrew Scott and Mark Strong in supporting roles who help the heroes on their journey.

1917 is a risky movie to pull off, but not an impossible task. There have been quite a few movies to attempt the one-shot formula, starting in the ‘40s with the well renowned classic film Rope by Alfred Hitchock. More recently, Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman or otherwise known as The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance won the award for Best Picture at the Oscars in 2015 while using the very same technique. It may seem impossible to make a movie look like one impressive shot, but through incredible visual effects, masterful editing and extremely careful shot continuity, the risk of pulling everything off becomes a possibility.

However, a war film under these conditions is a difficult task and one that could only be pulled off by cinematographer Roger Deakins. After recently receiving the Academy Award for Best Cinematography for his work on Blade Runner 2049 on his 14th nomination, both Mendes and Deakins have teamed up once again for this rigorous task. Mendes and Deakins had previously worked together on the James Bond film Skyfall, but Deakins did not return for Mendes’ second installment in the series, Spectre.

What Deakins and Mendes have crafted is absolutely stunning. Every shot is filled with excellence as Deakins always manages to perfectly position the camera while in constant motion. The focus is always clear and the choreography cleverly places the two actors for the most artistic shots possible. The single-take shooting allows the audience to take this adventure with these men, giving a personalized edge between the viewer and the silver screen.

There is never a dull moment in 1917. The men must remain on guard for the entire runtime and so must the audience. Every moment reeks with nerve-racking tension as a wrong move will result in a failed mission and the deaths of countless British troops. There is always an obstacle to pass which keeps the film’s pacing steady. In the scenes where the movie slows down, Mendes allows the men to breathe and further develop their characters through conversation and body language.

Thomas Newman’s beautiful score increases the intensity of the film’s war sequences while also lending itself to somber moments as well. It compliments each scene wonderfully, adding to the emotion and the power of the storytelling at hand.

Very rarely does 1917 fail to impress. Editor Lee Smith and the VFX team have stitched each shot together seamlessly to really give the impression that the film was entirely made in one shot. It is an incredible achievement for Mendes and Deakins and one that will likely inspire more influential filmmakers to use more unconventional film-making styles in their creative efforts.