Director Sam Mendes has taken the concept of a “one shot” movie and extended this over the entire running time of his latest project.
This is not an original idea, Alfred Hitchcock famously used a similar technique many years ago with “Rope” in 1948. There is a necessary element of conceit, whilst the camera follows the titular unfailingly characters unfailingly throughout the running time, subtle unnoticeable cuts frame roughly eight minute segments of tense action.
Any such endeavor, especially a heavily action set film, requires colossal amounts of preparation and rehearsal, with split second timing with “actors hitting marks” to ensure everyone is where they should be and know their lines.
As a technical exercise Mendes and celebrated cinematographer Roger Deakins have hit this out of the park, but does the acting and story match the technical expertise on offer?
Lance Corporal “Blake” (Dean-Charles Chapman) is selected to report to the General “Erinmore” (Colin Firth) for further orders, choosing his contemporary “Schofield” (George MacKay) to accompany him for the undisclosed mission. Erinmore orders them into what is essentially a suicide mission.
Traverse no-mans land, go behind enemy lines and pass on a message to an attacking battalion including Blake’s brother, who are walking into a trap, creating cynical sibling motivation through emotional blackmail.
The camera follows the pair along wretched trenches towards no mans land, strewn with barbed wire, rotting corpses and shell craters waiting to swallow a man whole.
The pair encounter good luck, random events and bad luck on their quest, with the story taking unexpected turns, all depicted ultra realistically in glorious 4K picture quality. The camera seemingly on the actors shoulder despite the technical impossibility of such shots, given the landscape they traverse.
The story is about the journey not the end result and similar to Dunkirk there are only hints of character depth. Largely the film depicts the surreal random nature of war, especially in later sequences set in the nightmare backlit vision of a destroyed village.
Both young actors are fine, mixing naivety, world weary practicality and sheer terror with equal measure, with McKay especially adding another solid turn to his filmography.
Arguably this is a director challenging himself but any film realistically depicting the futility and absurdity of war to younger generations, is always welcome.
A warning from the past of the sheer stupidity of “Last Man Standing” fighting can never get old. The film depicts the bravery of young lads/boys following orders often from landed gentry, as part of the rigid class system at the time, with little experience of leading men in war.
A realistic depiction of WW1 trench warfare, showing what can be achieved with meticulous planning and excellent cinematography.
Technical ability is complemented by naturalistic acting from the young leads, albeit a film shorn of a meaningful story arc or emotional character attachment, which further emphasizes the surreal nature of war.