1917 is a really good war movie. The reason it is not quite great is… its gimmick.
Some have hailed the gimmick as a major accomplishment even though another movie did pretty much the same thing a few years ago.
The gimmick is: the entire movie is what appears to be one continual shot that seems to run in real time. The gimmick is impressive, without a doubt. It is also distracting.
As I viewed 1917, my concern was less for the film’s characters and more for the camera and sound crews as they had to navigate trenches, rough terrain and water hazards to get the shots.
The “one continual shot” bit was a feature of 2014’s Birdman but it did not distract quite as much from that film’s compelling story. Birdman won the Oscar for Best Picture five years ago.
1917’s story is simple. Two young British soldiers in Europe during World War One are chosen to deliver a message to the commander of another unit of Brit troops. The message: “don’t proceed with your planned attack… it’s a trap.” Oh, and one of the two guys has a brother in that group that’s planning to attack. Oh, and they have to walk all the way to get to that other battalion.
Of course, the journey is perilous. Hey, it’s WWI and the Germans are bad people. (Well, they were bad people then. And then again a couple of decades later. But we like them okay nowadays, right?)
1917 has appearances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Colin Firth but their screen time is fleeting. The two young guys are played by relative unknowns Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay as Corporals Blake and Schofield, respectively. Both are good! (Chapman played King Tommen on Game Of Thrones.)
You may be able to enjoy this film and appreciate the feeling of immersion that director Sam Mendes hopes to achieve with this special perspective. You may not be distracted with thoughts about the welfare of the crew behind the camera. You may, as some critics already have done, praise the one continual shot thing as genius.
Or, you may, as I have, find it to be a distracting (and unnecessary) gimmick.
1917 was included on several top ten lists for 2019 releases. The film won Golden Globe awards for Best Drama and Best Director. Its imdb.com rating (from a small sample of users) is 8.6, the same as Saving Private Ryan.
1917’s wide release was pushed back from a Christmas Day 2019 opening to the less competitive January 10. (Although 1917 is still competing for IMAX screen time with Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker.)