On April 6th, 1917 General Erinmore ordered Lance Corporals Will Schofield and Tom Blake to carry a crucial message to Colonel Mackenzie of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. The scheduled attack on the Germans was discovered to be a trap and would jeopardize the lives of 1,600 men, including Corporal Blake’s brother. Overwhelmed by the significance of their mission, the two men barrel across no man’s land to the abandoned German trenches. Trooping through the empty underground barracks, a trip-wire is triggered by a rat and an explosion brings down the roof. Schofield is buried in the rubble and is only barely pulled to safety by Blake. Injured and shaken, the two escape, but this is far from the last of the obstacles they find between themselves and their pivotal expedition.
1917 was a stunning execution of acting, directing, and filming. This beautiful tribute to the nightmare of war is a technical marvel. Award-winning cinematographer, Roger Deakins, received a nomination for Best Achievement in Cinematography for his brilliant work on this project and the incredible feat of simulating a single take for the entirety of the film. While impossible to actually create a single take over the course of a whole day, the pieces were stitched together flawlessly to include a whole day, a sunrise, and a journey of several miles. Although originally shocked by the idea, Deakin takes the challenge in stride and delivers a cinematic masterpiece. The immersive quality of the film was excellently executed. The endeavor could have been jarring or distracting, but Deakin’s impressive work, done with his own hands, mind you, only enhanced the story.
The lack of cutting only increases the tension and intimacy with the characters.
This movie does not spare us the horror of war: the cold, the hunger, the death, the fear. Alex Godfrey of the Empire describes it as “The hell of war is production-design heaven. A playground of the damned.” Schofield and Blake are stoic but sympathetic protagonists, and while the artistry truly in impressive, not everyone found the execution of the story quite as impressive. David Sims from the Atlantic states, “Though 1917 tries to communicate that nightmarish reality, its long-take trickery ends up feeling similarly pointless.” His greatest qualm is the simplicity of the plot. He felt the mission to warn the troops of the impending attack lacked actual weight. This opinion, of course, can only be drawn from a personal bias. Another person with a different relationship to war might feel differently.