It's a good movie about the emptiness of revenge. Some of the characters actions and motivations are hard to believe, especially one individual at the finale. But the emotions of the characters are frank.
It's a 70's acid film, with all the trippy dialogue and editing you'd expect. I haven't seen Peckinpah's other films, but I imagine they're much the same in style.
As a movie in it's own right it's rubbish, but it's tone and non-commerical production clearly endears itself to the critics.
The script lacks merit, full of Ken Kesey-esque psychedelic ramblings on the nature of war. It gives the impression that the writers and producers wanted to use the reality of war as an allegory, and had no intention of producing a film which even partly imitated what took place on the Eastern front. The entire film really only makes sense in the context of counter-culture and the anti-Vietnam war movement. In that respect it is artistically indulgent, and has aged poorly as a result.
In short, the style of the film greatly detracts from whatever meaningful content it had. The ramblings often take place when anyone interested in saving their own skin would be ducking for cover.
The acting is often weak, but often this seems due to the terrible script. Some of the characterisation shines through regardless, and this is the films real strength. There are some absurd comic moments, and it is clear they are trying to illustrate the chaotic and visceral range of emotions experienced in war. But the context in which it takes place is entirely unbelievable.
There is some clear apologia. Prussian officers who volunteered for the Eastern Front were not generally bumbling fools in the manner predicted here. What they were and what they were prepared to do is another thing entirely, which this film side steps. Also, was I the only one who was routinely distracted by Coburn's prancing style of running, with his weapon held uselessly one handed by the stock? Russian boys weren't kept alive in German camps as friendly mascots. The worst atrocity committed is the order of execution a child.
What really happened out there was wholesale slaughter and degradation, and it would trouble anyone to bring it to film.
As a ripping yarn war movie it had a good basic plot of incompetent commander and a grizzled veteran engaged in a battle of will. But that sort of thing got lost in all the tripped out monologues.
The movie does have some strong points, but it's not a great film.