Kurdt’s review published on Letterboxd:
It grew on me quite impressively. For a while I was merely wowed by the incredible production design, but as a whole it felt a bit gimmicky; World War I: The Theme Park Ride. Son Of Saul, a film I was initially impressed by but have soured on since, popped into my head a couple of times. That’s another film that turns war into an exciting spectacle of editing and immersion. Experience it as if you were there!, etc. But it feels stripped of actual weight. That was the kind of thing I was weary of with 1917, but it won me over. It’s not actually interested in spectacle, it’s much more about how war is made up of thousands - millions - of individual stories. They all coalesce into one massive piece of history, but to the people who lose siblings and loved ones, for them it’s more about personal loss and the shattering of their family. That’s what’s captured extremely well here. Due to the central story about not only saving lives, but - in a Saving Private Ryan sort of way - saving one life, it elucidates the weight of all those destroyed corpses we stumble across, and the living, breathing people lining the trenches. They all feel important. This is arguably relevant to any war film ever, but in other films when you’re cutting from one big, say, bombing scene to another one with a shit ton of rounds being fired off, it’s harder to relate to the fact that everyone involved is a living, breathing human living their own complex lives, whose deaths are going to affect large swaths of people back home.
The fake two-take thing does allow for a boots-on-the-ground experience, and not being able to cut away definitely adds to the personal aspects of the story. I’m not necessarily sure if it’s a better film because of this trickery, but I don’t think it hurts it either, except for the few moments where coincidences seem a little too fortuitous. The first half can meander a little, just because there’s a lot of walking and chatting, but the second half continually cranks up the tension until an engrossing finale which illuminates the importance of the “Time Is The Enemy” tagline, and puts into perspective how many lives are just gone with essentially a snap of the fingers because a plan was ill conceived, or a message was delivered a minute too late. The film is at its best during these tense moments, and stumbles a bit whenever a scene relies mostly on dialogue. There might be an alternate universe where this is even more ambitious and essentially dialogue free. Maybe that’s an even better movie, but I’m still pretty happy with the one we’ve got.