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War Action Drama / English / 2019

Just another war movie, except this time it's a faux-longtake.

Longtakes are generally impressive spectacles even as one-off scenes in movies. Most commonly a rare feature in action movies such as Hard-Boiled's hospital scene or The Protector's restaurant scene, these serve to not just immerse you in the action, but also to sell the stunts involved. But sometimes you'll get a whole movie which it's just one longtake with maybe 2-3 breaks cleverly hidden between shots with the intent to simply bake the viewer into the world as we watch it live and breathe, such as Russian Ark.

1917 is set to accomplish both of these tasks, but rather than immersing me or impressing me I just found it continually distracting.

The first issue I have is not that it isn't a true single longtake, multiple longtakes stitched together can still be impressive, but the longer they are, the more impressive they are, and the point is to conceal the cuts between shots, generally by brief dips to black or passing an object across the entirety of the camera's field of view. In Russian Ark this was done incredibly sparingly and I may have only noticed 1-2 instances tops where a cut could have been snuck in. It's even easier if you have the camera on a track and can pass it over a benign static background and it would be impossible to tell if a cut had occurred. But multiple times over the coarse of 1917 the camera very obviously pans across trees or other objects in the foreground, at least twice it cuts to black, and there was one shot where the camera moves our protagonist offscreen and when they return to the shot they're in a position that they couldn't reasonably have reached in the short amount of time we didn't see them.

When I start noticing things that make me think the actor, who's portraying a soldier that's just been concussed by a severe head injury for literal hours, is having to jump up and sprint around offscreen so he can be in position for the next shot... I'm definitely not immersed.

The camerawork should be the best thing about this movie, but it's not. The sudden shift from steadycam to handheld is noticeable and jarring, there's multiple gratuitous 360 shots that just seem like counterproductive attempts to show off and here's the deal:

Russian Ark is impressive because the movie is saturated with actors moving about the entire set. The set's not going anywhere, the set doesn't need to act, or keep in character, or do anything other than look like it's an NPC stuck on an animation loop. They got hundreds of people to appear in that movie to make it feel like a real place, where real people are walking around and having conversations, that they have some place to be.

But 1917 consists mostly of just our two main characters. Pulling out to a super wide shot only serves to emphasize how big and empty the environment is. Wide open fields of nothing. The closest we get to anything on the level of Ark is when we follow the protagonists through the trenches and we see all manner of soldiers posted up, sleeping, having conversation or various other things. But even then, the area being recorded is incredibly confined, and the soldiers around them don't have to do a whole lot when half of them are sleeping.

Beyond that, I drifted between forgetting this was a longtake movie because nothing interesting was being accomplished with it, and being unpleasantly reminded of it because of the cinematography. The success of your longtake comes down to the cameraman's ability to run in front of the actor as he approaches the camera over the span of a football field's worth of dull environment, I don't really care.

Anyway, the movie's about a couple WWI soldiers being charged with bringing unwelcome news to the platoon of one of their brothers that they risk getting killed in an ambush preying on the misconception that the Germans are retreating.

Dude #1 is all gung-ho about it cause it's his brother, and Dude #2 isn't so cool with it because the intel about the retreat could be wrong and they're being asked to sneak through occupied territory. Immediately you start feeling bad for Dude #2 who I immediately wrote off as dead because the first thing he does is pierce his hand on a barb wire fence and then immediately dunk that fresh wound into the rotting exposed contents of some dead guy's abdominal cavity. And remember this is World War 1. My first thought is this guy's gonna get ill and die from infection. But surprisingly he doesn't, and shortly after he dunks the same hand in muddy corpse water and the movie just kinda forgets that might even be a problem.

Okay so Dude #2's day is already starting off pretty bad, but then the two find the German trenches abandoned, and in one of their tunnels they find *SHOCK AND HORROR* CG rats.

Definitely the most horrifying thing we've seen yet and I know that would ruin my day, but wait until the CG rat sets off a trip-wire burying Dude #2 in stone who becomes blinded with dust and is forced to flee the collapsing tunnel.

Okay, WORST. DAY. EVER. No doubt. He's probably got a different plague in each individual finger at this point, he took an explosion to the face, and now his eyeballs are filled with chalk. Definitely making us for bad for Dude #2 right now.

Which is why this is a fantastic time for Dude #1 to die less than halfway through the movie. Wait, what?

Seriously, these guys are conveniently present when a German plane gets shot down on top of them, they try to be nice and save the guy from the fire, but he wheels out and stabs Dude #1 right in the stomach. Prop for the blood effects in this scene, I'm awful shrewd about that stuff and they seemed to pull it off quite well here.

So Dude #2 is all on his own now, except that this is conveniently when an entire caravan of friendlies drive up in perfect silence to bring him some of the way. He becomes reinvested in completing the mission for his late friend and their brother and lah-di-dah eventually gets to sniper town.

Sniper Town, as I'll call it, is the exact point in the movie where you expect snipers to be posted up, but it is also when Dude #2 decides to be as unsubtle as possible by crossing a broken bridge by walking along it's metal railing. This after it's been visually established he could wade across and his boots are slippery as hell. Naturally he starts getting shot at, somehow he seems to tag the guy back with a practically blind shot into a window, enters the building directly (again, no subtlety), and walks directly into the soldier firing at him.

It seems like he gets shot in the chest at first, but when he recovers he only appears to have head trauma, so apparently the gunshot just startled him, he tripped backwards, split his skull, and nearly died from blood loss? That's ****in' lame.

The next sequence have him running around Sniper Town at night where fires and weirdly constant flares illuminate and eerily darken the vacant landscape. If there's any part of the movie where the camerawork makes sense, it's here because character stumbling around, suffering from a blood loss and a concussion while the lights shift all around him, make the constant floaty camera movement communicate a sense of surrealism, like this could easily be a nightmare he's having as he's unconscious on the stairs.

But no, no such luck. He's just running around a supposed military occupation but he sees like 4 guys maximum.

He jumps off a bridge, falls down a waterfall, climbs over some more bloated infected corpses, and automagically winds up where's been trying to get to. He tells runs past a bunch of fake explosions and soldiers running in one direction (we don't even see the enemy or any gunfire exchanged), he tells the general what he's supposed to, there's no fanfare, he finds Dude #1s brother, has a sad moment delivering the news, he flops down at a tree and credits roll.

The characters aren't engaging in any sense of them being interesting or enjoyable. Their conversations don't add up to anything meaningful... I mean it feels pretty cheap when you have exactly one scene where Dude #1 tells an unfunny story and Dude #2 laughs and that apparently serves as the entire foundation for describing him to his brother as though he's a regular comedian or something.

At least they tried to make me care? That's more than I an say for Dunkirk. They established personalities and a relationship between the main characters, but that's a pretty low-bar to clear.

When over half the movie's just a chopped up longtake of one character running and frowning though a landscape of nothing full of nobody... I just don't get much out of it.

Final Verdict: