This is an extremely well made film – a bit of a feat really – that uses a perhaps a too silly conceit to create a thriller cum war film that goes to pretty great lengths to remind us all of the horrors of World War I. (This is an under-filmed war compared to WWII.)
So we’ve all heard about how this is relatively few takes stitched together to feel like only a couple. And that aspect of it is pretty impressive – setting up long takes is always a bit of a technical achievement and there are numerous long takes in this film. But the film is pretty claustrophobic because of how it focuses on the two soldiers as opposed to the bigger picture. And, to me, that’s the real strength of the way it is filmed. By essentially doing a reverse POV – where the camera is nearly always focused on the faces of the two soldiers – everything else is almost always out of frame and we get the immediate experience of the soldiers. This conveys, as much as a fictional film can, the sheer terror of confusion of being a soldier in war, where you don’t know much more than what’s in front of you. It’s a really good creative decision.
Though I am sure the story is entirely made up – it certainly feels that way – the film also takes the hard way with its story despite the sort of happy ending, by killing off one of the two soldiers as early as it does. I think this is a pretty brave decision but also a necessary one. A lesser film wouldn’t have done it so early but this is WWI we’re talking about. So good on them.
Another thing I want to mention is the corpses. I’m not sure I’ve seen another film that has paid so much attention to the corpses, which were, of course, a key feature of the landscape in WWI. The ones in the river are particularly horrific.
I have nit picks. (When do I not?) A film that tries to be this realistic shouldn’t succumb to artificial movie contrivances. At one point the soldiers – one of them temporarily blinded – have to jump across a chasm underground. Ostensibly a mine shaft. I have no idea what a mine shaft would be doing in a trench complex and the only reason I can come up with that it is there is to make their escape even more unlikely. (Which is hardly necessary.)
Also, the score is a little over the top in a few sections.
But on the whole, the film is a bit of a feat, and it mostly never stops once the mission starts. It’s a pretty impressive film from a technical standpoint and it mostly works as a thriller – though I didn’t find it quite as tense as those around me – while also doing an excellent job of conveying the horror of war.