• 1917 is a major work from Sam Mendes- a director whose resume now seems even more fully rounded out
  • The camerawork by Mendes and Roger Deakins is front and center in the praise (and oddly enough the boldness of their endeavor actually turned some critics off somehow) – this is muscular filmmaking—ambitiously cinematic— but there is plenty 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.
  • I’m not here to evaluate the evaluators- but much of the criticism may be from the subject matter (it is a classic sort of old-school genre) and the team here behind the making of 1917 is old guard. Mendes has been working inside Hollywood (maybe Wyler is a comparison) for 20 years (American Beauty his debut in 1999) and Deakins and Thomas Newman worked on Shawshank Redemption which is 25-years prior to 1917—and even at the time of its release, Shawshank was viewed as very old school and classical
  • The entire film is a simulated oner -one tracking shot- 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- invokes the names of Hitchcock (Rope), Iñárritu (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 (Iñárritu again) with not only the tracking shots but the punishing nature of its protagonist. MacKay’s feat as an actor is maybe a half-step below Keaton in Birdman or DiCaprio in The Revenant as he’s not given quite as many showcase close-ups.  Dunkirk (Nolan) is another film to note 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. Doing it with one shot absolutely lends to the immersive nature of Mendes’ achievement. It simply isn’t the same experience (on top of the sheer technical/artistic achievement) if it is shot in a traditional approach
  • Speaking of immerse experience- the task/goal here in the story/mission is simple like Saving Private Ryan– there are 1600 soldiers (including one of the protagonist’s brother for further motivation) to be saved
  • Marvelous choreography of not only the camera but balancing the details of the extra- the scenes of the two leads “going up the down trench” bumping into soldiers. A variation on this would happen in the epic climax with MacKay sprinting along the trench crossing the teams of extras in his path

Paths of Glory here of course is an important text (Kubrick) with the tracking shots in the trenches—masterfully done– the sheer volume of detail (apparently over 5000 feet of trenches were dug) 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

Opens on the flowers and trees in an open field and the camera gracefully pulls back to start our journey—the film will culminatate in a very similar way

  • 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 including the shot through the window of Dean-Charles Chapman just before the plane arrives and another with the arches in the rumble at night with the flares overhead.

pacing forward to the seemingly abandoned city on fire at night. Stunning. The camera floating out of window at one point

Shot of MacKay from behind on burning building creating silhouette

  • Thomas Newman’s score deserves to be praised— 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

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– one of 2019’s greatest moments in cinema

Set-piece standouts purposefully breaking up the journey: the bunker collapse, the airplane crash—station to station on the journey like say Apocalypse Now– the lesser known actors (though MacKay should be a big name after this) as the leads with key talented veterans in support from Colin Firth to Mark Strong to Benedict Cumberbatch along the way. You feel the weight of these meetings because of the actors

The ethereal singing in the woods as the camera weaves its way all the way around the perimeter and back up through to face MacKay. It is easily the best shot in almost every other film ever made– 1917 is so good you could almost overlook it

  • The journey has no less than two devastating scenes with the two Blake brothers— one is when the Dean-Charles Chapman character passes (Mendes has a quietly stunning 360-degree shot around the two characters here as the color leaves Chapman’s face), and the other is when MacKay’s character delivers the news to his brother

A magnificent photography of MacKay at journey’s end through the field to the lone tree

  • A Must-See/Masterpiece border – leaning masterpiece