It owes a lot to Saving Private Ryan. I bet writer/director David Ayer watched Saving Private Ryan a dozen times as he got this project ready.
Ayer has a thing with people getting stabbed in the eye. Twice, with something that specific, is a thing: this and End of Watch, which was also a mix of drama and horror with gore. He has jump scares. Many. There’s gore, a surprising amount, like End of Watch.
The least forgettable thing is a section where Brad Pitt’s character and Logan Lerman’s character (he of Perks of Being a Wallflower) lock themselves in an apartment with two conveniently aged attractive German women who are terrified of them while they wait for orders. While we wonder if Senor Pitt will rape one of them, order Senor Lerman to rape one of them, or force them into prostitution or some combination of the two. It’s a scarier version of the relationship Jean Gabin has with the woman who hides him in Grand Illusion (a gal for each guy this time), but it just feels yucky. I have a feeling it’ll be the only thing I remember about the movie in a couple of years because other than that the film is pretty straightforward narratively.
Technically it has some problems. The music is on the nose and out front, with chanting German hymns running right into or out of Save The Day music that wouldn’t be out of place in a TV war movie. It’s shot pretty well, but has choppy editing. It wants to be an art movie, but it cuts away from every scene before any emotional resonance kicks in. There are too many cuts – regular cuts, not Baz Lurhman cuts – where there should be pans or tracking shots. Screen time better used for a few more moments with characters were stopped short to spend time watching the tanks drive down roads. Oddly, I spotted a glaring dub gaffe, which confirms my editing problems suspicions.
Shia LeBeouf does a great job being the beating heart of the group with the Bible character. The (older) woman in a creepy position with Brad Pitt in the apartment played by Anamaria Marinca put a lot into her limited screen time and got across a lot of different emotions without having to say much. The green, Star Wars-like gunfire (and tankfire?) looked and sounded cool or terrifying, depending.