REVIEW: ‘1917’ a one-take film following a one-take mission

On April 6, 1917, the United States joined its allies, Britain, France, and Russia, to fight in the first world war. The U.S. joined the war after Germany made the decision to target neutral shipping zones. Although the United States’ involvement in World War I was what most students were ever taught in history classes, no mention of U.S. involvement was acknowledged in the immersively historical film directed by Sam Mendes, “1917”. 

The plot is straightforward enough and does not require historical knowledge to follow. The story begins on the day April 6, 1917, with two British soldiers: Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay). The two British soldiers are shown stationed in France where they await to receive new orders.

The young men are ordered to deliver a message to the British troops at the front line, who are preparing an assault on the Germans who have retreated from their nearby bases. British intelligence discovers the retreat is a German trap set to obliterate a troop of 1600 British soldiers, including Blake’s brother. The two men are ordered to race against time across “No Mans Land” where they enter behind enemy lines trekking to find their fellow troops at the front. 

It’s a classic wartime movie, from the nigh-impossible mission to the heroic underdogs fighting the suspenseful battles with odds stacked against them. To fanatics of historical war movies, the film may remind viewers of “Saving Private Ryan,” the iconic film portraying the search and rescue mission of U.S. soldiers from World War II. “1917” is packed with the popular wartime expectations of trenches, barbed wire, sandbags, rats, bunkers, explosions, and brutal portrayals of wartime casualties. 

As heavy and gruesome the story is, the film is not shy with playful humor for the audience to catch a break from stressful scenes, and it does not lack inspiring and captivating soft moments for the viewer to shed a tear or raise a grin. 

As far as characterization, Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield couldn’t be more strategically formed and starred. Blake jumps at the assignment, eager to save his brother and begin his mission right away, letting no risks or odds stand his path or prevent him from getting home. Schofield is portrayed more wary and cautious of their mission After receiving a medal after the Battle of the Somme, he is reluctant and fearful to face another battle, more aware of the risks and dangers that await them. 

What captivates the audience the most is Mendes’ stylistic choice to portray the entire film as one continuous shot. t. The editing was so advanced that it was nearly obscured, only noticeable when the scene is orchestrated into a transition of black, night, an explosion, or a cloud of dust. The camera remains stable on the characters and each subject, and while the shot is not fixed on Blake or Schofield, it looks as though the camera is placed to be used as the characters’ point of view. When the camera is following the two men, it’s leveled for one to believe that is a third character, following and racing alongside the two men on their mission through the mazey trenches and delirious nights. The one-shot film seems as though it makes a linear line from beginning to end, paralleling different scenes throughout the course. 

The advanced camerawork and obscure editing captivates the audience during the arduous mission, following and staying close on track with the two soldiers, as if to bring the scene closer to the audience and bring it to life. The viewer was able to feel the fear of the two characters, and to anticipate whatever they anticipated through the intense use of cinematography. 

The lack of mentioning the announcement of the U.S’s involvement on this day ensures that “1917” is a film directed and focused upon the commemorative British mission. The imperative focus on the British characters allows the audience to capture every recreated detail down to every uniform, every corner of every trench, bunker, corpse, and wound. The film strikes a balance whereby it portrays the insanity and horror of the war, while not being too outrageously gruesome. 

With steady camerawork, obscure editing, and diverse characters with impeding agendas, the audience is taken on a historical adventure alongside two relentless soldiers as if the past from over 100 years ago was brought to them all in one room.