Will’s review published on Letterboxd:
Generally feel the same slightly disappointed way some others do (that the film is too one-note to be truly successful), although the overall effect is still moving, and its nature seed enough for far-reaching contemplation about all manner of things relating to our moral agency and its displacement in historical atrocities (and love, art, philosophy, theology, etc). The way its internal struggles contrast with the monumental landscapes of the world around it is, of course, stunning - Malick remains a monumental filmmaker. Certain innate abstractions - like the facilitation of fascism by the church, or the nature of communal identity and nationalist cause - feel in some ways more interesting than Franz's singular commitment to right over wrong, partially because Franz is never really challenged on his ideals or made fallible. It would be interesting to understand the crucial formational differences between conscientious objectors in small agricultural villages like his and otherwise complicit workers - what does he see that they do not, and how can one convey this to them?
As much as the film is broadly repetitive, some interesting things at play: I liked the use of archive film, particularly the crash from historical document to "present" historical fiction (the ride to Berlin), which is given even more of a jolt by the here and now look of digital. It's similarly effective at translating violent action into physical reality (the attack by the guard on the jail floor), which is a quite shocking way of realising history as passionate (in the Christian sense) tangible experience. Also, although never explored beyond sheer implication, the home movie footage of Hitler at his Eagles Nest is a fascinating contrast - Berchtesgaden being a mountainside paradise just as idyllic as Radegund, yet occupied by forces of wholesale spiritual corruption ("Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." ?) The film's final chapter is very powerful and Malick at his most humane (and defiant - the sun doesn't disappear behind the mountain, it continues to beam - the goodness of hidden lives now reveal themselves in blossom).