1917 is defined by a singular, aesthetic choice: to tell its story—that of two British soldiers sent to carry a crucial message deep into enemy territory—via an uninterrupted single take. There are a few clever cheats here and there, but mostly we follow the harried journey of these men (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) in what feels like real time, through a camera that never leaves them. The technique emphasizes the space through which the soldiers wander—especially the height and depth of the trenches—in a way that’s undeniably immersive. It’s bold of director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins to try this in a World War I setting, considering one of the more celebrated tracking shots in cinema history takes place in the trenches of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. And perhaps the fact that Kubrick didn’t employ the technique all film long is instructive. As 1917 goes on and the pair face a series of logistical challenges (navigating a collapsing bunker, crossing a bombed-out bridge), the film’s form begins to resemble that of a video game—only without the user interaction that makes games so compelling. The quieter, dialogue-driven sections (the script is by Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns) even feel like cut-scenes, brief moments of respite before we go back to watching the soldiers (or Mendes) resume playing. With stiff-upper-lip cameos from Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mark Strong.