Brian’s review published on Letterboxd:
Am I wrong to say that the quieter moments of this worked far better for me than the war ones? The emotional core of this movie, namely the friendship between Schofield and Blake and the family ties that truly impel them to move forward, are what makes this movie a very good one for me. As Schofield implores Blake at the beginning of the movie to stop for a moment to think all this through, Blake is adamant that he must depart at once and it's not because he's following orders - it's because he has to save his older brother. There is also very little time to stop in this movie, and for obvious reasons - the "one shot" technique that the movie relies upon only really works if a subject is always in motion. But for me, those moments when it does stop, as when Schofield has an interaction with a French woman and when he stops in the woods to listen to a song being sung, are the best in the entire film. War is obviously a politically complicated and terrible endeavor for those involved, but those moments are what accentuates the humanity of the players involved here.
"You'll never make it." "Yes, I will." This is about more than war and saving 1,600 men. It is about grit and determination and trying to find a way to save a single life.
The singing in the woods also called to mind a song from another World War I movie, namely the barmaid singing in Stanley Kubrick's Paths of Glory. But whereas there, the barmaid is a prisoner from the other side and is being forced to sing for the men as they are about to once again go off to fight, here it is a countryman singing to his fellow soldiers as they are about to fight. The change in the context is key - Paths of Glory is more a testament to the problems of war and the lives it shatters, whereas this movie is simply trying to show the heroism of one man amidst the heroism of many.
The ending of the movie is, for me, the best of all of this. The simple interaction at the end is perfect in tone, content, and acting, and the quiet reflection in the final moments is at once calling back to an earlier question and also bringing back once again the emotional core. The dedication is a nice touch as well.
I wish the set pieces had worked as well for me as they seem to have for others, but they mostly felt like "oh, we're running again" to me.
A very good movie in what has been a superb movie year.