Of course, to a modern audience, this may seem old hat, but to think that these sequences came over sixty years before Spielberg's beach-landing in Saving Private Ryan (1997) is staggering. "This isn't war, it's a massacre," states one soldier after a particularly bloody encounter and Bernard doesn't shy away from the gruesome aspects of injured men wailing for help from no-mans-land, or a pinned down squad using a fallen comrade as a parapet to duck behind. The encroaching darkness of their situation is echoed in the inky contrast of the visuals that cast the eponymous crosses and gnarled, dying trees in haunting silhouette. The dark of night is also utilised for some of the tensest sequences that see crawling soldiers bereft amongst the barbed wire lit up and exposed by flares streaming overhead.
The crosses, of course, represent grave-markers and appear during the opening titles in which a painting of soldiers slowly dissolves into a field of multiplying crosses. Their most striking use during the film proper sees a platoon super-imposed on the picture, marching skyward with their crosses carried on their shoulders. It is perhaps a little obvious, but has a strong resonance, especially when highlighting the hypocrisy of a victory parade ordered by the military chiefs for those that barely survived. It's this forthright voice that many most praised the film for, aided by its casting of exclusively war veterans as the 39th, lending further authenticity to a film that valiantly grasped for a truthful telling of what the frontline of The Great War was really like.