With groundbreaking cinematography, immersive soundtrack and extremely intense war sequences 1917, unfortunately, has pacing issues due to single-take style and very basic screenplay.
“1917”, honestly, is the best video game ever. A video game not a film. We follow heroes with over the shoulder camera as they progress from one level to another while they fulfill THE quest. It’s all done in one seamless take for full immersion of battleground and monstrosities of war. Why not call it a game cinematic?
Seriously tho, 1917 is an OVERWHELMING achievement in cinema. If you can cast aside gimmicky one-take camera, you will be able to see one of the best and most intricate cinematography by genius Roger Deakins (who MUST get an Oscar for this). He utilizes colors, blocking and framing in a way that no one does. Secondly, big credit to production design, as the WWI sets look not only realistic, they look haunting, daunting and outright claustrophobic.
An out-of-this-world soundtrack by Thomas Newman plays a great role in intense build-ups. There were several scenes that had me on the edge of the seat as not a lot of films do these days, due to incredible usage of music. Especially (no spoilers) night sequence is one of the best audio/visual sequences I have seen maybe in the whole decade.
What I didn’t like at all was the choice of one-take style. While it worked great in BIRDMAN, it gets tiring in 1917 really fast. Yes, it looks amazing during action sequences, but pacing drops to a halt when nothing happens on screen and because Mendes would not make a cut we have to literally walk with heroes in almost real-time – listen to their BS talk, watch them drink water or wash eyes or whatnot.
Screenplay troubles are even worse, because stripped of all glory of visuals film is about delivering a message from point A to B. There is miniscule character development, all actors do is react to whatever is happening at that moment. There is a huge supporting cast of familiar faces reduced to just 4-sentence cameos.
1917 is full of war cliches you have seen a thousand times in a thousand other war films (some even ripped directly from SAVING PRIVATE RYAN), BS talks about the insanity, ridiculousness, wastefulness of war, copious amount of blood/amputee/cadaver money shots, and, sure, why not add another child into this to incite horror.
In the end 1917 turns into a spectacle of order of AVENGERS: ENDGAME, with all visuals and not enough substance.