The story of war film 1917 isn’t that new. It premises on Blake and Will, two soldiers who are tasked to deliver a message to stop the attack that might lead to the soldiers’ death; the catch being they have to go through the enemy’s territory first. Though it tried to add a flavor of drama, it felt lacking when it came to establishing the characters. The connection between Blake and his brother was not that convincing, and their motivation isn’t justifying enough for them to move forward.
There was no significant development from the characters. Blake’s longing for his brother was not established well; however, it was redeemed with George Mackay’s (Will) impressive performance. His eyes translated feelings of perseverance, loneliness, and frustration throughout the film. You can feel his doubts and inner feelings through reading in at every detail of his movements.
Yet the film felt shallow in its plot, with the talent pouring out in the technicalities. In fact, it felt like the idea of doing a one-shot film came first before the story itself. That said, Roger Deakins’ one-shot cinematography was immersive, its quietness haunting you and making you feel uneasy–as if there’s an enemy watching you throughout. The movement of the camera allowed us to immerse ourselves with the two soldiers. It feels like you’re one of them—pushing each one of us to move forward to give the message to Colonel Mackenzie.
While this one-shot technique greatly strengthened the film’s world-building, the production design made it easier for me to perceive it as something real. It was able to give the smell and the feel of the warzone–the foul odor of the rats and the greasiness of the dead bodies floating in the river. The parallelism in the first and last shots was also notable: it felt like the movie ended the same way it started, but this time possessing a more complacent feeling of moving forward and getting ready for a new beginning. This time, I felt it was sure–at least for that moment.
The blocking of the film was nuanced, succeeding in showing the audience what they should see clearly and what they should not–choosing what to focus on or not. Every single detail in the frame was well-choreographed and was able to tell something.
But while the movement of the camera, choreography, and framing of the actors were consistent, by the end, the film did not feel complete. The film appeared to prioritize the look and the style rather than developing the characters. Though it tried to deviate from conventional war films by making it more personal, it didn’t hit the level of familiarity a personal film should have. It was undeniably visually stunning, but it wasn’t able to completely pierce deeply through the heart.