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When I first heard and read about 1917, the new Sam Mendes film, the emphasis was on how it appears to have been filmed in one long shot - there are no cuts, from character to character or place to place, as is common in virtually every other movie. It obviously isn't one long shot, but the trick of the movie is to make it look like one.

It isn't an original idea. Alfred Hitchcock, notably, tried to do it in 1948 with Rope, but the James Stewart movie isn't entirely successful … it always has struck me more like a stunt than a movie.

Which is what I figured 1917 would turn out to be. I have no problem with long tracking shots - Martin Scorsese has used them to great effect in movies like Goodfellas, and Mendes himself used the technique - effectively, I think - in the opening of Spectre, his second James Bond movie. But a whole movie? It had to be more about technique than drama, and therefore would be less than satisfying.

I was, to say the least, wrong.

1917 is an extraordinary piece of moviemaking, in which the technique actually serves the story in an effective way. The setup is simple - it is World War I, and two young British soldiers are given a message to deliver to the front that a general (Colin Firth) hopes will avert a massacre.

From there, because the camera movements create a kind of intimacy with the soldiers, we are with them as they make their trek, we feel their efforts and share with them the horrors of war. This isn't sanitized in any way, and we see the impact of war through the eyes who are fighting it, rather than through the eyes of politicians and military leaders who send others to sacrifice and die.

1917 is at its core a thriller - one cannot help but be on the edge of the seat, because the highly focused approach to the story means that we are not always privy to what is going on outside the frame, which creates both suspense and a sense of dread.

The performances are uniformly strong - George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are the young soldiers who carry the story, with brief but effective appearances by some of the best British actors out there, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Richard Madden, Andrew Scott, and the aforementioned Firth. But the real kudos need to go to Mendes and his cinematographer, Roger Deakins, who have created a memorable piece of art that also serves as a cautionary and close-up tale about the horrors of war.



That's it for this week … have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Slàinte!
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