John’s review published on Letterboxd:
I read the source material something like 5 years ago, and it lived up to its classic status, depicting how horrible war is. The thing I remember most from the book was how nobody in it on either side wanted the war to go on. There was no honour felt in it, the war was nothing but misery for all. I'd never experienced a war story like it before.
This is the first film version of the story I've seen. Although a few things are changed or added, such as the whole subplot of the higher ups trying to reach an armistice, I think this was a relatively good adaptation (more on that at the end). The score was very effective.
But like a lot of war movies that have come out lately, like 1917, the film's power is only momentary. Meaning I enjoyed it while watching it, but I know my feelings for it will fade. It was "forgettably good". The reason for this is a lack of truly engaging and memorable characters. Think of Full Metal Jacket or Apocalypse Now, and your mind immediately goes to iconic characters. But the characters in these recent war films are largely stock characters you instantly forget.
So my enjoyment of this was only momentary. I would argue that film just might not be the right medium for a story that focuses more on the collective misery of war than on character. In other words, this film adaptation does a fine job texturally of a story that textually might not work for the medium. In the book version, the characters' anonymity is a major part of the book's point regarding the collective misery -- it was the first world scale war, meaning everyone was in it, regular people, not larger-than-life heroes -- but film needs character. So the point the book is making is antithetical to what makes films work. Read the book.