1917 ★★★★

When he invented the Steadicam in 1975, I'm sure Garrett Brown never envisioned a world where filmmakers would be able to follow soldiers in real time as they waged war and yet, here we are. Thanks to some supremely self-assured direction by Sam Mendes and typically spectacular work by cinematographer Roger Deakins, "1917" has to be considered arguably the greatest technical marvel that Hollywood has produced since "The Revenant". While much ado has been made of Mendes' decision to make the film appear as one continuous take, the decision to include no visible cuts was no mere gimmick as it adds striking intimacy to George MacKay's plight as he desperately tries to make his way to Benedict Cumberbatch's battalion before it's too late. I was instantly reminded me of the work László Nemes achieved in his haunting holocaust portrait "Son of Saul" as the camera never seemed to want to let MacKay out of its sight even as he faced one increasingly hazardous obstacle after another. Some might argue that the tactic makes the film feel a bit like a video game and, while that argument does indeed hold water, I'd play the fuck out of this game if I could. I certainly wouldn't want all films to be shot this way but in this case I truly believe it suits the story that Mendes and company set out to tell.

Beyond its technical achievements which are innumerable, the film hits all the right emotional beats whenever it finally decides to stop and catch its breath. In fact, some of the film's more memorable moments are the quieter ones such as the beautifully intimate moment when MacKay comes face to face with a baby girl while his wounds are being tended to by a French woman. In another quieter moment of great emotional resonance, the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion all gather around as one of their brethren sings an acapella rendition of the folk standard "Poor Wayfaring Stranger". Since the film is so light on dialogue, music plays a hugely important part in it and Thomas Newman's score does a great job of complimenting not only these quieter moments but also the more spectacular moments designed to keep you on the edge of your seat. They say that it's impossible to make a truly antiwar movie as no matter how much suffering you show on screen the bravery and the comradery of the men and women who agree to put their lives on the line will inevitably shine through. 1917 is certainly no exception to that rule but it's probably one of the best examples that show how much of a physical and emotional tole war can take even over a relatively short period of time. Besides, it was about damn time that the soldiers who fought in the trenches in World War I were represented by a quality film of their own.