1917 ★★★★

Overall, 1917 is in line with traditional handsomely made and finely acted war films, a tried and true tale of sacrifice, bravery, and the impact that the individual can have on many against great odds. The one take device is fascinating in that more often than not, it simply gets in the way or feels utterly pointless. However, there are times when its use in concert with other tools and techniques yield some of the most effective war film cinematography ever put to screen.

The film often feels like it can’t keep up with itself, so much so that there is even a hard cut/time change that feels like even the movie has to admit to itself that the one take gimmick has very clear limits. With that all said, the “Burning Church” sequence is worth the price of admission alone and perhaps Roger Deakins’ most astonishing feat yet. 1917 is Partly a masterclass in photography direction, but also a wonderful exhibition of a grand master pushing his skills to the limits. It doesn’t always work, but even the missteps are impressive in such high level craft.

You will see many references to 1917 as a video game movie, but that description is a positive connotation that also belies more nuanced compositional elements. The film moves like a big budget video game campaign such as CALL OF DUTY or BATTLEFIELD, full of set-pieces and high profile actor cameos (somewhat ironic because these games in turn have cribbed much of their visual language directly from blockbuster cinema.) However, 1917 also at times deftly evokes fantasy, role playing, and even survival horror games. Like my colleague opined after our screening, some of the moments feel straight out of DARK SOULS.

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