There’s no shortage of great war movies, but 1917 makes a compelling case to be in the discussion among the best. With an emphasis on cinematic experience, the movie tells the story of two soldiers on an impossible mission and provides a terrifyingly realistic glimpse into life during World War I. The Ringer staff weighed in on the film’s early Oscar buzz, its heart-racing battle scenes, and more.
1. What is your tweet-length review of 1917?
Ben Lindbergh: My most visceral cinematic experience since They Shall Not Grow Old. I’m glad there’s only one critically acclaimed World War I movie a year. I need all of the time to recover in between.
Shaker Samman: I had to pee for 45 minutes but couldn’t leave because there were no cuts and I was terrified if I moved I’d miss something important. Also it was a good movie.
Jason Concepcion: A folkloric approach to the meat grinder of the Western Front; like Lord of the Rings meets trench warfare.
Jackson Safon: What was more difficult, Blake and Schofield’s mission or shooting this entire movie with tracking shots?
Danny Heifetz: I don’t remember who told me this but someone said it was like the Frodo and Sam part of Lord of the Rings, but fun.
Michael Baumann: I didn’t find it particularly scary, anxiety-inducing, or sad in the moment, but at the end I really needed a hug anyway.
Sean Yoo: Roger Deakins flexes his mastery in a gripping war movie that features Benedict Cumberbatch sporting an elite mustache.
2. What was your favorite part of the movie?
Concepcion: HOT PRIEST (Andrew Scott) dropping into the movie like five minutes of mustard gas, a cameo so searing that it should be banned by the Geneva Conventions.
Lindbergh: I liked the quiet interludes of almost-normality that gave Schofield (and the viewer) brief breaks between horrifying hellscapes—especially the scene where the soldiers on the truck try out competing impressions of their officer to distract themselves from their fates.
Safon: A tie between Blake’s story to cheer up Schofield after he had been buried alive by a bomb and the scene with Lauri and the baby. The entire movie was thrilling and riveting, but those two touching moments (among a few others) took the movie over the top.
Baumann: George MacKay’s performance. This movie had about 1 ½ characters, yet it made the one person the audience got to know worth your while. Schofield could’ve been a cliché in about 20 different ways and despite saying relatively little, he’s incredibly real.
Yoo: The first 15-20 minutes of the movie perfectly captures the brutal tension of war through the eyes of two young soldiers who blindly head into a nearly impossible mission. Thankfully for the viewer that tension is briefly halted by a hilarious performance from Andrew Scott.
Samman: The best parts of any Mission: Impossible movie are the scenes when Tom Cruise is Action Sprinting across some picturesque setting. The same is true of 1917. George MacKay, just a few hundred yards from completing his mission, books it through bombs and bullets and fellow soldiers just before finally finishing the job. And it’s one hell of a watch.
Heifetz: If any of my colleagues picked something other than Schofield running across the battlefield, they did it for attention.
3. Was there any aspect of 1917 you didn’t like?
Heifetz: Did Schofield get shot in that house or what?
Samman: I didn’t quite understand what happened when Schofield passed out in the watchtower. Was he shot? Was it just recoil from his weapon? And why isn’t it addressed again?
Lindbergh: I wish Schofield hadn’t told Blake that their journey would take six hours, because I spent the rest of the movie wondering how Mendes was going to cram six hours of travel time into a less-than-two-hour quasi-continuous take. He didn’t, so evidently the journey just wasn’t that long?
Safon: I get the value of the superstar actor cameos, but they also kind of took me out of the movie, which was otherwise so immersive.
Baumann: I found myself dreading the obligatory rattled-soldier-stumbles-across-pretty-French-speaking-woman-living-in-rubble bit. That scene appears in almost every war movie like this and it’s always just a huge drag. This was no exception.
Yoo: This has nothing to do with the movie itself because I really enjoyed it, but the trailer unfortunately gives away some of the big moments in the movie. While it didn’t fully hurt my viewing experience, it did take away some of the surprise and shock of certain scenes.
4. Which shot stood out to you as the most technically impressive?
Baumann: Schofield’s mad dash across the field parallel to the advancing Devons, with the world exploding all around him. Yeah, it was the money shot in the trailer so I knew it was coming, but fuck that’s one of the coolest, grandest shots I’ve seen in a while.
Samman: The aforementioned shot of Schofield running through the wave of British infantry while dodging attacks from above to reach the front’s commander was stunning. Honorable mention goes to the sequence at the abandoned farm with the crashed German plane.
Yoo: I would recommend that everyone watch this featurette on the making of 1917 because it shows the sheer size of this movie and the technical feats it required. The shot that consistently stands out to me is when our two soldiers go from one end of the trench to the other. I was blown away by the thought of choreographing all of those actors across such a long stretch of time within that scene. It was bewildering to watch and after seeing just how long that trench was in the featurette, it made me truly appreciate everything that went into making this movie.
Heifetz: The least impressive shot is a tie between every shot the sniper missed while Schofield was a sitting duck on that bridge. Again, if anyone says the most impressive shot was anything other than the battlefield scene, do not trust them.
Concepcion: Lance Corporal Schofield running parallel to the trench during the charge of 2nd Battalion.
Safon: My favorite shot of the movie was probably when Blake and Schofield were making sure the farmhouse was secure and the camera followed Schofield inside the house but then he gets to a window and you can see Blake casing the back.
Lindbergh: The dogfight followed by plane crash followed by burning pilot rescue followed by stabbing followed by shooting, all in the span of 60 seconds or so. It all happened so seamlessly, and so scarily fast.
5. The one-take, tracking-shot vibe: a success or a stunt?
Samman: Is answering “both” a copout? The plot of the film is thin: The two gents need to get from Point A to Point B in a set amount of time. Like Dunkirk’s constant ticking clock, the almost complete lack of cuts in 1917 means viewers can’t take a moment to catch their breath. Even slower, calmer scenes like the one with Schofield, the French woman, and the baby are tinted with anxiety. Shooting a film to look like a single shot is a choice, and this one certainly paid off.
Safon: Because almost all of the reviews I read before seeing the movie focused on the tracking shot nature I think it qualifies as a stunt, but it was so unbelievably impressive that I don’t know how you could say it wasn’t a success.
Heifetz: I did not know this was a thing until someone told me three days after I saw the movie.
Concepcion: A stunt, but a successful stunt. Single-shot approaches are almost commonplace and the “wow” factor of long takes isn’t what it once was. I mean, even television shows are doing “oners” nowadays. Season 3 of Daredevil features a wildly tense one-shot action sequence set in a prison; Better Call Saul has a oner; as does last year’s Escape at Dannemora; and the list goes on and on. Schitt’s Creek; The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel; It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; Mr. Robot; even Comedy Bang! Bang! has one. Ultimately it’s about making the right choice for the story, and the one-shot approach fits here, properly depicting the miraculous nature of Schofield and Blake’s journey.
Lindbergh: It went on so long that it stopped seeming like a stunt. At a certain point, it became clear that it wasn’t one take, so I stopped trying to figure out how it worked and surrendered to the ride. It also served a thematic purpose. Restricting the scope of the story to the viewpoint of two low-level Tommies helped convey how overwhelming and bewildering the war was.
Baumann: Sometimes a long take heightens tension or gives a sense of motion, but most of the time it’s just the director showing off. I think it was incredibly effective for about 20 minutes at the start of the movie and 10 minutes near the end, otherwise it was either restrictive or distracting.
Yoo: For sure a success in my opinion. But I definitely couldn’t help feeling like I was watching a video game at times during this movie. Even the scene where Colin Firth was explaining the mission came off as a video game cutscene.
6. When did you realize Blake was the same actor who played Tommen on Game of Thrones (Dean-Charles Chapman)?
Concepcion: When the trailer dropped.
Lindbergh: If I hadn’t read about it being Tommen beforehand, there’s no way I would’ve known.
Yoo: I realized immediately and all I could picture in my head was the famous GIF of Tommen jumping out the window of the Red Keep.
Samman: About 20 minutes after the movie finished, and five minutes after mentioning to my colleague Danny Heifetz that I wasn’t sure where I recognized the actor from. Turns out I last saw him swan-diving from a King’s Landing window!
Heifetz: Luckily after the movie, because the entire thing would have been ruined if I had known Tommen Baratheon was related to Robb Stark.
Safon: I knew going in but I was thoroughly impressed with his acting. Not sure I could say the same about his performance as Tommen.
Baumann: When I saw the trailer. Maybe one day he’ll live to see the end of his film/show.
7. Did Schofield successfully complete his mission? Could Blake have done better had their fates been reversed?
Safon: Schofield absolutely completed his mission and Blake absolutely could have done better. It was incredibly touching when Schofield stopped to give Lauri food and milk, and, like I said, it was one of my favorite parts of the movie, but that is a pretty serious time waster that I doubt Blake would have done. And while I have no doubts that climbing over a dam of dead bodies would be jarring, Schofield just sitting among the 2nd’s camp while he was so close to completing his mission wasn’t ideal.
Samman: He wasn’t able to reach the front before the first wave went out, but he must’ve saved at least a thousand lives by getting there when he did. I’m calling that a success. As for Blake: Family is a powerful thing, and protecting his older brother would’ve been a strong motivator. That said, I’m not sure he could’ve done better than Schofield.
Baumann: Schofield did the best he could under impossible circumstances. As for Blake … like, Schofield strangled a guy to death with his bare hands. What on earth makes you think Blake was capable of doing something like that?
Lindbergh: It would have taken a lot of luck for Blake to do better. Schofield is a supersoldier who survives almost being blown up, buried alive, shot, strangled, and drowned. I’d give him every medal on the menu (or if he’d prefer, a bunch of bottles of wine).
Yoo: Schofield did the best he could given the circumstances. It’s tough to say whether Blake could have done better; he was clearly more motivated between the two since it was his actual brother’s life that was at stake. But I think Schofield got an immense surge of adrenaline and inspiration after Blake’s death and that might’ve been what powered Schofield to complete the mission.
8. What do you think happens to Schofield after the movie?
Lindbergh: He gets gangrene from sticking the open wound on his hand into a decomposing corpse. Very sad.
Safon: He sends the letter to Blake’s mom just like he promised and then likely dies in a later battle.
Heifetz: He forgets to clean out that cut on his hand and dies from the infection.
Yoo: As an optimist, I hope he gets awarded a bunch of medals and returns home to his wife and kids and lives happily ever after. But war is war and rarely do we get happy endings.
Baumann: No war in human history has spent so many human lives so brutally and pointlessly as World War I, and one thing I appreciated about 1917 is its unflinching portrayal of that particular legacy of the conflict. So what happens to Schofield? Well, 1917 takes place in April, about three months before the historically bloody Third Battle of Ypres, so it feels like a pretty safe bet that Schofield goes back to his unit and later that summer drowns in a mud puddle or dies of phosgene exposure or something.
Samman: He likely received a medal of valor (maybe the Victoria Cross?) for his service, but, as he’ll tell you, it’s just some metal and some ribbon. Assuming he survived the war, he made it back home safely … and then saw his children conscripted to the second World War two decades later.
Concepcion: He returns to England where, 99 years later, his grandson would vote “Leave” in the Brexit referendum.
9. Who had the best heat-check cameo? Were any too distracting?
Yoo: BENEDICT CUMBERSTACHE!!! (The Robb Stark cameo was very distracting.)
Baumann: Andrew Scott gets 90 percent of the movie’s zingers, but nobody got more mileage out of his cameo than my man Richard Madden slowly dissolving into tears.
Samman: Cumberbatch was at his Cumberbatchiest, and Colin Firth was certainly feeling himself, but I’m clearing out for Andrew Scott. The Hot Priest was charming in a nerdy way. Lieutenant Leslie just objectively owns, and is the coolest, most jaded person in a movie filled with cool and jaded people.
Lindbergh: Andrew Scott won the cameo competition. I found Richard Madden a tad distracting, both because he looked too good to have recently returned from an assault on the enemy line and because his casting made me consider the implications of Tommen and Rob being brothers all along.
Heifetz: (1) Lieutenant Leslie got on the court for three minutes and hit four three-pointers. (2) Don’t put people I know in period pieces. The magic of this movie is suspending reality. Don’t have Benedict Cumberbatch parachute in at the end.
Safon: Andrew Scott, Professor Moriarty from Sherlock before he was the Hot Priest, unquestionably had the best cameo, but I thought pretty much all of them took something away from the movie ever so slightly.
10. Does 1917 make your war movie Mount Rushmore?
Concepcion: Nah. My Rushmore:
- The Battle of Algiers
- Army of Shadows
- Saving Private Ryan
- The Thin Red Line
- Full Metal Jacket
- Paths of Glory
- Come and See
- The Best Years of Our Lives
Baumann: No, but it does top my list of best movies about a guy running like hell to stop a suicidal attack during World War I, apologies to Gallipoli and the young Mel Gibson.
Samman: I think so? Saving Private Ryan is likely on everyone’s. Dunkirk is certainly on mine. And I’m pushing the boundaries of the rules and including Inglourious Basterds on the facade as well. That leaves 1917, Platoon, and a smattering of other great entries fighting for the fourth spot. Recency bias compels me to put 1917 there.
Heifetz: If this was one of the four best war movies ever made, they would write it on the poster.
Lindbergh: It’s too soon to say. Rewatchability is a must for a Mount Rushmore movie, and I’ve seen 1917 only once. Based on my initial impression, though, I’m sharpening my chisel.
Yoo: No, because it’s too stacked of a category for me to come to a decision.
11. Does 1917 feel like the Oscar front-runner to you at this point?
Concepcion: Hmmm. It’s an expertly made period war film from a respected filmmaker with a fine pedigree starring an essentially all-white cast. I’d say yes.
Lindbergh: I can’t claim to have any idea what the front-runner is, but I’ve seen almost all of the likely nominees, and only Parasite prevents me from declaring 1917 the one I want to win.
Yoo: The Golden Globes and the HFPA have historically made the right choice (this is meant to be read sarcastically) so yes, I think 1917 is the front-runner because as we know, the Globes are always right!
Samman: It certainly has the momentum. I don’t think it’ll take home Best Picture (my money is on Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood) but the Academy often makes strange choices, and I wouldn’t be too upset if this year that honor fell to 1917.
Safon: I hope so.
Baumann: It’s the best drama released in 2019 that I saw, I’ll put it that way.
Heifetz: Is this the part where I pretend to have seen the other movies?