To hell and back

A pair of British lance corporals (Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay) expecting nothing more than another dull day in the trenches during WWI are tasked with delivering an urgent message to a distant regiment about to fall victim to a German trap and certain annihilation. As many as 1600 lives are at stake, among them the brother of one of the corporals.

One of the reasons this film from Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road, Skyfall, Spectre) is creating such buzz is that it’s filmed seemingly in one real-time shot. Long takes of each scene are seamlessly knitted together to create the impression that you never leave the protagonists as they undertake their harrowing, high-stakes trek across no-man’s land. It’s immersive to the point where you forget you’re in a movie theater.

Some critics are calling this a gimmick. This is pathetic and petty. If the one-shot concept was all there was to it, I’d agree. But there’s much more going on here than camera tricks. The film has real heart, good storytelling, fine acting, flawless pacing and Hitchcockian suspense. Plus, it won celebrated cinematographer Roger Deakins his second Oscar.

 This is an epic yet personalized emotional thrill ride that’s visceral, frightening and cathartic. Big screen, please. The biggest you can find.

(119 min)