Riveting Pretty Much Every Moment From Start To Finish
Please dismiss anyone who criticizes 1917 harshly as overanalytical snobs, perhaps haters of blockbuster films, and assume that they secretly liked it, because really, how can one not. Sure, you can find fault with it; if I had directed 1917 I would have done a few things differently. Still, you just can't argue that it's not a masterfully-crafted film that is riveting pretty much every moment from start to finish.
First, to anyone who might hesitate to go see the film because they think they will be subjected to the graphic violence and gore of, say, Saving Private Ryan, then don't hesitate anymore, and go see it. While 1917 is realistically gruesome, director Sam Mendes depicts the horrors of war - weird choice of words coming up, I know - beautifully. By that I mean, even the most horrifying and sad shots in the film, while highly stimulating in the aesthetic and emotional sense, are never extremely graphic, and you are never hit over the head with it. 1917, in this way, is a beautiful artistic masterpiece, never straying close to being shock art, but not holding back at the same time.
What would I have done differently had I directed the film? I would have toned down the "bad guys can't shoot very well" cliché. I know, it's dark much of the time, the hero is running and zigzagging through built-up areas which offer a lot of protection to an elusive target, and I don't mean to imply that our hero does not elude death at times because he makes some sound lightening-fast decisions; it's just that, at other times, that cliché seems to rear its ugly head. Another implausibility in the film is, our hero spends probably a good ten minutes going for an unplanned, unintentional swim in the river, yet nothing seems to have gotten wet afterwards. Seriously nitpicking now for implausibilities, but as food in the trenches of World War 1 was scarce, and rations were measly, why then cast a chubby actor as one of the protagonists. There's a scene where he's grateful to be given a small crust of bread, and it's somewhat incongruous considering he looks so well-fed.
What else? I'm not a fan of soundtracks that are seemingly intended to push the please-feel-something-now buttons, and 1917 has a button-pushing soundtrack. But at least the music is apropos, not sappy in any way. In general, I don't like the idea of war having a soundtrack, because soundtracks invariably glorify war.
I'll be interested to read reviews from people who have had first-hand battlefield experience; I have not, so I don't necessarily consider above to be a credible critique. It's just how I personally experienced the film.