You’re stuck in the netherworld between life and death. With just a flask of water and a few cans of food at your disposal, you clutch the 8.8 pounds of your future—ready to fire it at all times. Everything you see, hear, and smell is suddenly converging. Mustard gas in the trenches. A beautiful farm, surrounded by dismantled landscapes. A crumpled chapel, falling into flames. The ominous sounds of a foreign tongue, echoing in the distance. Dust shimmering in the air—in your nose, in your eyes. Whispers of your family. The heartbeat of your wife. And suddenly, a bullet blasts into the wall behind you. Gunfire rains upon you. 1917.
But however imposing and in-your-face 1917’s setting remains, it is a character-driven film. It’s not about World War 1, the setting, or war in general as much as it is about the two cogs churning the story—Lance Cpl. Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Cpl. Schofield (George MacKay)—who were as brilliant as the technical aspects (from the cinematography to the sound mixing). It is the agony and fear and reluctance and impulses that follow them. You see it in their facial expressions, their dialogue, how they walk/crawl/run through the land, how they gaze upon the horizon with despair—as they lurk behind enemy lines to deliver a message that would save 1,600 troops from marching right into a German trap.
But the defining trait of 1917 is that it appears to be one continuous shot, like Birdman. The special effects and camera angles used to maintain this illusion are effective. You surrender your attention and follow the messengers from the first frame to the last, without a single break. Every second keeps you on your feet. You are vulnerable, scared, in awe, and, ultimately, rewarded. And when the credits roll, you find yourself asking questions. What are the limits of human perseverance? And pain? How did mankind reach a point wherein world war became a solution? What was it like? Well, 1917 gives you a pretty great taste.