Every review or casual comment about 1917, from pan to praise, will all begin with the same undeniable fact: it’s an astounding technical achievement. While far from the first apparent single-take feature-length film, it’s certainly one of the most seamless. Better, the feat is partially insulated from charges of gimmickry in that the structure derives directly from the urgency of the plot. There’s an essay waiting to be written about how both Sam Mendes and Christopher Nolan approached the venerable war film genre in the 21st Century: by experimenting with structure and time.
A couple things took me out of the experience:
- The very intrusive score. Often so overbearing that I suspected the filmmakers doubted the power of their imagery. (a particular example being Schofield’s mad run across the battlefield being accompanied by a pounding rock score, when surely the shells, screaming, and guns would have been more effective)
- Sentimental war movie cliches, most notably coming across a pretty young woman in the middle of a battlefield.
- Casting movie stars as the various superiors the soldiers encounter throughout the film has some deleterious effects: it’s distracting when the two leads are relative unknowns, it calls attention to an episodic structure, and it relies too much on melodramatic camera reveals (holding the lens on Mark Strong’s boot for so long seemed a bit rich).
- An unimaginative, unevocative title. These are not perfect analogies, but imagine if Platoon had been titled 1967, or if M*A*S*H had been 1951.