The movie “1917,” which won a Golden Globe for Best Drama despite being released at the end of December, is pretty good for what it is — a film about how being a soldier in the trenches during World War I was not the best time.
It’s a very simple movie, following a pair of message carriers as they make their way to deliver orders that will stop a doomed attack. They face some obstacles, a lack of cleated boots being the primary one, and lots of heroic things happen.
What it isn’t, but what it vaguely hints at being, is a continuous-shot film. It gives the impression of being such, seeing as the whole thing is following the two main characters, but it’s just a bunch of different takes stitched together with big fancy computers to look like one take. It’s the cinematic version of driving in a car then bragging about your four-minute mile.
This might not seem like such a big deal, but the reality is that shooting a film in a single take is extremely difficult, extremely time-consuming and extremely impressive. It is an accomplishment that makes certain sacrifices necessary, like any possibility of developing characters outside the main focal points, or building the plot beyond simply watching the action unfold.
Splicing together a movie is easy, comparatively, and using modern film-editing techniques to masquerade as a continuous-shot film is just kind of lazy. If they wanted to do this movie, they could do it in one take. Or I suppose two, since there’s a bit of a time jump in the middle, but still. It’s not like money is real, and movie studios have unlimited funds, so there’s no reason they couldn’t have just gone for it.
The end result is a movie that moves very quickly and leaves a lot of questions unanswered, without the excuse of being technically noteworthy.
However, the way the film hustles us along does provide for some nice juxtapositions, probably meant to show the harsh realities of war or whatever.
One minute they’re taking a nap in a lovely field of flowers, the next they’re sliding down into a mud pit full of dead people. One of them is running through a dark city, trying to avoid being shot, then suddenly finds himself in an apartment with a woman and a baby. A desperate river getaway transitions to a peaceful performance of “Wayfaring Stranger” sung by an unnamed soldier.
Another contrast, which has nothing to do with the pace of the film but does seem worth mentioning, is that in a war that is predicated on digging miles and miles of trenches, fighting for every inch, these guys are just kind of walking out in the open the whole time.
At the end of the day, “1917” is better than most war movies. It gets a bit predictable at times — whenever it’s been slow for too long something exciting happens — but that tends to happen when the entire plot is essentially shown in the trailer. If you like war movies, you will probably like “1917.” If you don’t like war movies, you still might like “1917.” That’s about the best praise I can give it.
Rating: 6.5 ugly British war hats out of 10.