1917 is almost absurd achievement of cinema from Sam Mendes
The camerawork by Mendes and Roger Deakins is front and center in the praise (and odd enough the boldness of their endeavor actually turned some critics off somehow) – this is muscular filmmaking—ambitiously cinematic— but there’s of warranted praise deserved for the narrative (some of the quieter moments are the strongest), for the writing, acting, and the visceral effect on the viewer.
The entire film is a simulated oner – there are a few edits of course—the most noticeable of which is one where George MacKay’s character is knocked out (other edits are hidden) for what seems to be a couple of hours
The attempt to do it all in one tracking shot—or a “oner” invites the names of Hitchcock (Rope), Inarritu (Birdman)—both “hid” their edits as well, Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark) and Sebastian Schipper (Victoria). I also have to compare it to Gravity (Cuaron), The Revenant (Inarrituagain) with not only the tracking shots but the punishing nature of its protagonist, Dunkirk (Nolan) with the brilliant use of space and time deadlines, and Paths of Glory of course (Kubrick) with the tracking shots in the trenches—masterfully done here.
It may not be as painterly as Mendes’ Skyfall or The Road to Perdition (there aren’t many films that are as painterly as Perdition) but I’m still blown away by some of the photographic highlights (the arches in the rumble at night with the flares overhead) and the sheer volume of detail that had to go into the production design as they walk along. There are so many extras (which give the film scope and authenticity), there’s no detail out of place, no body, rock or flower or tree in the wrong place.
I’m terrible at picking up a good score upon first viewing but Thomas Newman’s work here deserves to be mentioned— it is there to accentuates the film’s climax as MacKay sprints alongside the trenches in one last-stich effort to save these men – a sequence and tracking shot so valiant and affecting I’m getting tremors just thinking about it
The journey has no less than two devastating scenes with the two Blake brothers— one is when the Dean-Charles Chapman character passes, and the other is when MacKay’s character delvers the news to his brother
I’m calling it a Must-See film for now – top 5 of the year quality with the distinct possibility of it moving to Masterpiece status with further processing of the first viewing—a rewatch, and study