1917 ★★★

I'm a little upset about this one. There is so much that I absolutely loved but boy howdy did I find this to be an incredibly frustrating experience.

Going into it, I was absolutely sold on a war story being told through the device of what is meant to look like a one take shot. The refusal to break especially when tied to the high stress environment of a war zone sounded like the perfect recipe for "edge of the seat" anxiety. Before it ended however, the whole thing started to feel like an unnecessary gimmick.

Don't get me wrong, the film is technically impressive and some of the long take sequences are absolutely mesmerizing. My issue is that there seems to no particular reason for this presentation choice other than marketing. The film is paced in a way where this style of presentation is absolutely not complimentary and even in some cases, downright detrimental. The "hidden cuts" are all incredibly obvious and usually take place in drawn out uneventful scenes. Worst of all, the film doesn't even stick to it's style, arbitrarily cutting around the mid point when there are many ways to have transitioned the scene without a hard cut. If you're going to allow yourself a cut for convenience, then what is the point in sacrificing what could be moments of more interesting framing/pacing in favor of an unbroken shot throughout the rest of the runtime?

While I'm being a negative Nancy I guess I'll hit my other gripes. The score seemed to come in at occasionally awkward moments and somewhat undermined the intensity of a few scenes. Also, quite a few eye rollingly silly conveniences that did nothing but pull me out of whatever immersion the long takes were building.

On a more positive note, some of the long takes fantastic. The film is a technical marvel with sequences that filled me with tension and/or intreague, while also looking quite good. Deakins is back at it again and though a lot of the film is shot in daytime natural light, he does an admirable job of keeping the shot composition consistently eye catching. (Dont even get me started on that night sequence) Another high point is the excellent production design. There is a natural progression in the scenery from trenches to fields and forests to ruined cities that makes the world feel like its brimming with life. Soldiers are caked in filth with props and wardrobe that completely sell the time period.

The level of technical excellence makes this all the more frustrating to me. So much of the filmmaking is wildly impressive but I never found myself all that invested in the characters. So much time is spent tracking the literal legwork of the journey, that emotional development kind of gets glossed over. What moments that could hold emotional significance are often hindered by the aforementioned conveniences.

When the movie ended, I had this feeling of emptiness. It felt like I should've cared more than I actually did. So many individual pieces stuck out to me as excellent on their own but I never got the sense of seamless cohesion I was looking for. I really don't know how to rate this. I intensely loved some of the decisions while others had me pulling my hair. Probably sits somewhere between a strong 6/10 and a light 7/10 for me. If this had been presented as a tighter, no hard cut "one take" or a smartly edited collection of long takes, I would probably be on the hype train with everyone else.