Less a technically-dazzling ‘theme park’ event than the ‘it’s all filmed like it’s one shot!’ premise suggests. This is partly because the film has more heart than I expected – it mightn’t go to pains to characterise with nuance or anything, but it clearly has a real respect for death, and the miserable lot of war. It’s also because the faux-one-shot technique is less dynamic than expected.
The camera is often outright sluggish, and never really seems particularly comfortable except in scenes where things are allowed to get static, and Deakins’ compositional and specific lighting skills can really be put into play. This isn’t an exploratory camera, this isn’t the searching kind of long-one-take perspective one might find in a Lubezki film. If anything, it feels more like a video game…trailing behind shoulders, slowly adjusting for combat scenes, etc.
Still, some scenes are choreographed amazingly, especially the climax, which features an excellent, stirring depiction of lateral movement. When there’s focus on motion like that, the visuals really work, but so often there isn’t. But there’s undeniably an immersion factor to the camera sticking with the main characters the whole time, even when it traps the film into what mightn’t have been the most evocative way to depict scenes. A war film about rushing to prevent fighting, it’s all a bit more original than the brief suggests, and really does have heart, and an interest in the humanity made absurd and reduced by the byzantine horrors of war. Three and a half flares, and a dogfight.