1917 (2019) – An Overwhelming Gimmicky of Experience

★★★½

Some things make me appreciate Sam Mendes‘ “1917”. The thing I appreciate the most is the one-shot take by Roger Deakins. However, the thing I hate too is the one-shot take by Roger Deakins. I can say that “Birdman”, or even Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope”, is better than this film. But, one thing I hate about this film is the marketing and production. In terms of story, this movie is not worthy. There is no big reveal and even complex or a shot of flying bag from “American Beauty“. However, such an achievement made me doubt whether the Oscars this year made us amazed but surprised just like “Green Book” from last year.

“1917” is about two British soldiers, in the middle of the battlefield, just relaxing while eating their fried chickens. On the other hand, there was a German who had been struck back behind the front line. Britain, under the leadership of Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch), prepared to attack the D-Day. The news came if the plan had been modified as a trap. Germany is ready to welcome Britain with a counter-attack force many times over. Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) were sent to the front to send information. They are racing against time before tomorrow comes, crossing dangerous areas, sacrificing themselves just to save more than a thousand lives.

This movie highlights the characters from behind where we, as the audience, get to know us more closely how these two characters think, work, and act. The immersive movement of the camera feels like we are the third character. There is a moment where the intensity goes up, a camera shining back, and a turn where danger is everywhere. Gunshots from a distance are always dangerous. When they arrived at a new place, there was one small thing that had them almost die. And just like that, the camera only captures the surroundings while following these two characters in motion.

From time to time, the two characters will always meet with the leaders. They are both faced with two choices, either surrender or fight; or may also run away. Conversation between characters is like a separation from one to another character. The exposition is not very vague because we never know how these two characters came from. Even though there is a point, this isn’t “Dunkirk” where you know why all the characters in the film don’t have backstory whatsoever.

There is a sequence where the camera goes first and away from the character. The influence from Stanley Kubrick is also there especially the tracking shot in the first sequence of the movie. However, the atmosphere of the film lies in how this movie shows the corpses scattered on the ground. This movie makes both of these characters, and also us, witness a lot of terrible things. The point is, this is a battlefield and to say if the movie had any similar theme with “Saving Private Ryan”, it’s reasonably priced. The sense of real-time, the build-up from scene to scene, and the seamless camera movement without a cut. It’s a redeeming quality.

Despite “1917” having an overpraised marketing of one-shot take, this movie isn’t far from a gimmick. The reason why “Birdman” is used as the technique is to describe a life. The reason is that life doesn’t have a cut and pause. Alfonso Cuarón also teaches a great take and cut from “Roma” and it seems flawless to me. All elements are designed to display the illusion of a film taken with an unbroken take. I watched this film and didn’t focus on the story and the technique. We only focus on the cut, the invisible cut from the blocking and the editing. I mean, it’s fun.

The film is anything. It’s exciting, tense, awesome, emotional, etc. With these elements, “1917” is an interesting example. However, there is no content in it. While “Dunkirk” isn’t an epic war movie but more like a thriller movie about people stranded on the beach, “1917” tries to involve more drama at a rapid pace. The technical also steals our attention. It could as well overlook the drama in itself. Mainly because every sequence is just an illusion. Control is an illusion.

With a film that contains only two actors, the movie shows a character without an arc even though there are a cause and effect. George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are like a paradox. Each character has a support function for each character, especially Scho to Blake. Blake looked upset because Scho appointed him to accompany the mission. They were both afraid, especially Blake; like in the sequence where a rat is a cause. After learning a lot about what just happens in the specific scene, Blake learned how to transform, struggle, and get through all of this one by one. Scho, at first, didn’t care much. He also became aware that the effort had a meaning.

It’s not entirely a film without meaning and just a memorable gimmick. The movie, personally, doesn’t have any clear indication of why they want to promote this movie as a luxury; like they just discovered a new technique and assume they are the first to use it. It’s just so distracting to me. A simple film can end up with more than a gimmick. The one-take concept isn’t an easy technique to do. However, due to a large number of films using this technique, it’s just eliminating the point of all. I love the climax of the movie. On the other hand, this is a different experience to watch the movie in the cinema.

Salman Al Farisi

An Indonesian who loves to watch and read everything. A literary student who likes to write about reviews and essays on Crackdown Review. But, I just wannabe critics who love arthouse than anything.

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