1917 ★★★

The one-shot aesthetic (it's obviously not actually one shot, but that doesn't make it any less impressive or effective) certainly elevates itself above the level of a gimmick—it's not only an effective technique for visually communicating the fear and anxiety of these desperate men, it also accentuates the breadth and intensity of their journey by directly contrasting how and where the men started the film with how and where they ended it—there's just not really much else that's particularly impressive outside of what went into achieving it.

Compare this to Hitchcock's Rope: that film used its one-shot aesthetic to string together a bunch of character-driven drama; this one uses it to string together a bunch of set pieces. We learn almost nothing about these two men, which could be fine in theory if the film used their empty characters purposefully, but in practice, in such an intimate story, it makes investing in the repetitive action and constant forward motion difficult.

Like A Hidden Life, this is a very small, personal tale of a very large, impersonal war, and that perspective can often get lost in the trees and miss the forest; for the most part the "brotherhood of war" and "war is hell" messages get across, but there's a lot more of the war this film isn't depicting. It's a breathtaking visual feat of virtuoso filmmaking, I just don't find the movie it's wrapped around to be particularly exceptional.

2019 | Sam Mendes

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