“If you watch 1917, watch it in theaters. Send tweet.”
Fifteen minutes after I left the theater as a blubbering, existential shell of a human being, I sent this message out into the ether of the internet, to be lost among the boundless starscape of data and pixels and, well, whatever Twitter is made out of.
I don’t tweet often, or I try not to, so hopefully the weight of my instruction is clear.
“1917” features an imperative message, though one that takes much more to deliver than shaking fingers and a Wi-Fi connection. The deliverance of this message makes up the plot of the World War I epic, finding two British soldiers, Lance Corporals Will Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) tasked to find and inform a headstrong Col. (Benedict Cumberbatch) that an attack planned for the next day was a deadly trap.
What sets this film apart, however, is the way it was filmed — in a set of continuous one-shot sequences, edited together to appear to be one unending camera movement. It’s an ambitious undertaking, one that works only through the genius of cinematographer Roger Deakins.
The intensive work that went into the production of “1917” should be obvious even to those who aren’t film fanatics and I guarantee you’ll have the urge to look up the behind-the-scenes features to see how in the world they could’ve made it.
It involved months of rehearsals, shots that sent camerapersons from walking to running to riding on the backs of Jeeps seamlessly, building custom sets measured so precisely that they took the exact same time to walk as it took to perform a scene and many other impressive feats that are tiring just to consider.
Co-written and directed by Sam Mendes, who is best known as of late for helming the Daniel Craig James Bond franchise, “1917” is less of a film and more of an experience, like the most intense, un-magical Disneyland ride ever.
As the camera follows the action, you feel as if you are part of it as well. Not so much as a direct participant, though, but as the invisible guardian of the two soldiers as they traverse their way through no man’s land.
This works both for and against the film; while you are watching, you are strongly connected to the characters through the intense sense of ownership you have over their mission. However, there are a few choice moments where the curtain falls and you recognize just how gimmick-y the one-shot approach feels.
In fairness, though, those moments are always followed by intense filmmaking beauty, which suck you right back into the world Mendes created.
There are multiple scenes that are so striking, I wanted to jump out of my seat. It was moments like these that were the cause of my sorry state leaving the movie: the blending of lighting, camera, direction and Thomas Newman’s moving, heroic score so perfect that it was nearly impossible to comprehend it was completely man-made.
One of the biggest surprises for me was the impact left by lead actor George MacKay. In a role that could’ve easily taken a backseat to the massive spectacle surrounding it, MacKay (much like his character) instead stepped forward, entirely committed and extraordinarily moving, as Schofield.
I was already aware of his talent from his role in the chilling and underrated 2017 film “Marrowbone,” but I was taken aback by how much sheer willpower he gave to this role.
In any other year, his exhaustive performance would be an absolute for best actor accolades across the board, but, unfortunately, we live in a society that overlooks hardworking, unknown names for impressive but, comparatively, middling turns from bona fide stars.
Maybe in a few years, if MacKay goes the way of Rami Malek, Taron Egerton, and now, Timothée Chalamet and does a musical biopic, he might receive some well-earned recognition.
There is still a question in my mind whether the power of “1917” will stay with me upon repeat viewings. I can’t really see it being as engaging anywhere but in a theater environment, as its distinctiveness truly is nearly all visual.
However, I meant what I said, — or tweeted. If you have any interest in “1917” at all, don’t wait to see it until it’s cheap to rent or streaming on Netflix. It is by all means a once-in-a-lifetime event, and we are the ones lucky enough to get to experience the ride as it was intended.