October 28th, 2022
MOVIE: ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
STARRING: FELIX KAMMERER, ALBRECHT SCHUCH, DANIEL BRUHL
DIRECTED BY: EDWARD BERGER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 4 STARS (Out of 4)
War is hell. It’s a phrase we’ve heard time and again. It’s also been projected through the art of cinema since the beginning of the medium, from Lewis Milestone’s 1930 best picture winning version, Black Hawk Down, Saving Private Ryan, and as recent as Sam Mendes’ 1917. The message is often the same, the visuals horrific, the men, women, and children traumatized by the terror that is their surroundings. And even with all of that material, the message often strikes at the center of the viewer, and the experience for those watching may only capture a fraction of what the real-life moments are like. Edward Berger’s newest interpretation of All Quiet on the Western Front is not just a movie showing us that “war is hell”, but in fact showing us that pride in country, the lies we are told, and the utter dismemberment of a young man’s self. The result is one of the biggest technical achievements of 2022. All Quiet on the Western Front is a powerful, breathtaking experience, and a reminder once again that war is indeed pure hell.
One of the minor undertones of All Quiet on the Western Front is fate. The very existence of it forces you to notice every action and decision. It begins with lead character Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer) forging his parents signature to be accepted into the German draft of WW1. His friends are all amped up and prepared to give everything they have for their country. The decision for Paul has been made and as he slowly waits to get his military gear and assigned his duty. His initiation is swift, along with his five friends, they are marched to the front lines, immediately on the front line and there is no turning back. Bullets flying, tanks blasting, grenades thrown, and lives being lost. There’s no turning back.
From the technical side it’s impossible to not praise the direction from Edward Berger. The settings of trenches and bunkers instantly place us in the moment, soaked in mud, grime, and a sense that walls are closing in. The applause also belongs to cinematographer James Friend, who brilliantly focuses on Paul’s face in the foreground, while the violence is erupting around him. Shots above the war capture the plethora of bodies left to soak into the soil of Europe. To call this version of war authentic is an understatement.
But it’s not all war going on. We do get the bonds that Paul and his friends have, from the survival or war to the trauma it is inflicting. We see a brief moment of happiness in a scene with best friend Katczinsky (Albrect Schuch), where they steal a goose from a local French farm and I am reminded of the beer drinking scene in The Shawshank Redemption. This is the lone moment of joy for a collection of men, fighting a war they don’t understand, on the side that will be occupied by history’s greatest monster. Interjected in-between Paul’s struggle for survival, is the diplomatic conversations between politicians, the most notable played by Daniel Bruhl, capturing the behind the scenes conflict, involving men who have been playing with innocent lives out in the field, and hold the power of surrender in their prideful hands.
On the whole it’s impossible to not marvel at what All Quiet on the Western Front is as a total piece of cinema. It’s a precursor to William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, in the moment with what is immediate regret from those thrown into the war. It’s rich with genuine emotions and moments of shock and awe. With a runtime of two-hours and twenty-seven minutes there is not a single inch coated in fear, despair, and the question of if survival is even possible. That of course is not the point. The point is that innocence is lost in war and that anyone who has a life ahead of them would be altered forever by the greed of men seeking power. It’s important to put one’s pride in the appropriate places. Not in a country but in the hopes for a better humanity. Sadly, I don’t think that’s something we remember, and because of it we have all been lost.
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT IS NOW PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND ON NETFLIX.
Written by: Leo Brady