One of the most astounding technical feats in recent cinema actually melts away, in favor of the story. That is rarely the case with technical breakthroughs, but in 1917 the single shot technique is a stunning achievement.

The magic of how it was done is filtering out from various interviews, but suffice to say the magic is still there on the screen. With six months of rehearsals, writer / director Sam Mendes commandeered a literal army of experts to bring his vision to screen. Over a mile of trenches were dug, and the effects credits at the end seem endless…but the result is seamless.

Based on stories told by (and dedicated to) his grandfather, Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns plunge the viewer directly into the action. With essentially no exposition, zero cuts and no reaction shots the film puts the viewer implicitly in the characters’ position.

Two soldiers are sent behind enemy lines to warn another platoon that they are marching into a trap.

The plot is fortunately a straight line, with a singular goal established. The viewer’s perspective is only as deep as the characters’ in that there are no shots that reveal what is around the corner in the trench or over the ridge in no man’s land.

Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay play the two lance corporals sent on the mission.

Roger Deakins assembles his decades of skill as a cinematographer to deliver the magic, which captures the urgency, immediacy, angst and futility of war. He has been interviewed talking about how the camera moves from a crane to a running cameraman to a truck, which I am confident is only a sliver of the real story.

Thomas Newman’s superb score ebbs and flows with the drama.

The big names in the film (Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch) are seen only briefly, as the pair undertakes their hero’s journey.

This is a film that is both breathtaking and poignant.

Trailer here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.