All Quiet on the Western Front Movie Review (Spoiler Free)
Four teenage friends enlist in the Imperial German Army, riding a wave of patriotic fervour. Their romantic views of battle are quickly shattered. War never felt so intense before!
Original Title: Im Westen Nichts Neues
Genre: Action/ Drama / War
Director: Edward Berger
Cast: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Edin Hasanovic, Moritz Klaus, Adrian Grünewald, Devid Striesow, Thibault de Montalembert & Daniel Brühl.
Run Time: 148 min.
US Release: 28 October 2022 (Netflix)
UK Release: 28 October 2022 (Netflix)
German Release: 28 October 2022 (Netflix)
As stated in my review of Old People, I am usually not the greatest fan of German cinema, simply because the cinematography looks mostly cheap. This seems to have partially changed with the rise of streaming platforms, as Edward Berger’s anti-war drama, based on Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name, gives us a visually intense experience of what war can be like. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to seeing this, although, after a few recommendations, as well as two short reviews that I read, I decided to give it a try. Suffice it to say, All Quiet on the Western Front, blew me away!
During Spring of 1917, 17-year-old Paul Bäumer enlisted in the Imperial German Army alongside three of his school friends, following a patriotic speech given by a school official. The feeling of heroism quickly dissipates once they face the brutal realities of life on the front. Paul's preconceptions about the enemy, just like the rights and wrongs of the conflict soon begin to crumble.
Berger’s flick, is the third adaptation of Remarque’s novel on film, though, what keeps it fresh is that it took liberties depicting the source material. The screenplay written by Berger himself, as well as Ian Stokell and Lesley Paterson, don’t follow the book 100 per cent, focusing much more on trench battles, just like negotiations for a ceasefire, while the desperation of the young recruits is merely suggested but barely talked about. In fact, it is the character of German official Matthias Erzberger, who while pleading for a ceasefire, contemplates that there will be no youth left if the war keeps on going.
However, the cynicism about that delegation, or even the German commanding officers surveying the battle, who are living in warmth and eating five-star meals, while the battling soldiers need to survive in the cold fight for scraps of food, is a subliminal message that really hit home, creating anger among viewers.
The script's strongest feature is the theme it maintained from the novel, about the futility of war. Especially with everything happening in the world right now, it is more prominent than ever! The descriptive details of the story, concerning the trench war, are powerful and traumatising at the same time. This is undoubted, one of the best adaptations of a book, just like one of the best war movies!
That said, there are one or two scenes along the middle mark that screeched the pacing to a near halt. Nevertheless, those were filled with excruciatingly, painfully deep conversations.
This brings me to the dialogues, which are simply brilliant! Every piece of discussion, conversation or bleak monologuing rambling, sounds authentic. The dialogue between Paul and Kat, where he reads him a letter from his wife, is haunting! The mix of optimistic euphoria, clouded by the depressing reality is one of the most heartbreaking scenes.
Austrian actor Felix Kammerer, who plays the lead Paul Bäumler, is perfectly cast! This is his movie debut, giving it his all! Paul is a naive teenager, who is drilled by a school official that it's the boy's duty to go into the war, only then becoming a real man. He goes into battle, with a romantic belief about it, which is crushed during the first night in the trenches. Kammerer is the heart and soul of this feature, invoking pain, disgust, as well as confusion about the pointlessness of the Great War.
Albrecht Schuch is equally great as Stanislaus Katczinsky, a veteran of the trenches, plus a mentor to Paul and his friends. Schuch is a fantastic method actor, invoking his knowledge into his role! The faces he pulls, be it when he is happy about something, or shocked when things go beyond bad, it was great to see his acting range on screen!
Daniel Brühl, who helped with his presence to promote this Netflix production, has a minor role as Matthias Erzberger. An actual historical figure, who signed the armistice agreement of Compiegne. His arc in the film was included and not part of the book.
The cinematography was jaw-dropping, including some of the best camera work I have seen for a war flick! The introductory scene about a family of foxes, using close-up shots, under a tree in a European forest, while grenades and bombs are going off in the distance, is incredibly impactful. From there on, we jump to a one-shot scene, following a young soldier getting out of a trench, into battle in no-man's-land. Director of photography James Friend, used worm’s eye views, scenic long-shots, as well as montages to full effect, including a segment with a tank, I’ll never forget. The horrors of war are made abundantly clear!
The visual effects are out of this world, be it cannon fire, grenade explosions, or the impact of tanks crushing over bodies. It all feels real, visceral, bloody plus paints a depressive grey tone. The practical effect, be it the dirt and mud on soldiers' faces, the open bloody wounds or the dead bodies laying around the set are disturbing. The special effects department brought their A-game to this production! Costumes, just like make-up design are fantastic, suiting well to the era it plays in.
The music, composed by Volker Bertelman, is more contemporary with incredible electronic bass, creating an eerie, dangerous feeling. The sound effects were equally impressive, be it the far echoes of bombs, or the simple oomphs of tanks rolling above ground.
Verdict: The novel, by Erich Maria Remarque, was one of many we were required to read in German literature class, and was one of the books that stuck with me for a long time. I never saw the 1930 feature, which won the Best Picture award, but I can say that Berger’s adaptation is just as impactful as the novel! The script keeps its characters purposefully at a distance, nonetheless, the audience can’t feel anything but sorrow for Paul and his company, as they are being deprived of all happiness in life. The casting is marvellous, Felix Kammerer is great as the young recruit Paul Bäumler, while the supporting cast added credibility to the narrative. Daniel Brühl has a much smaller role as promoted, yet is nevertheless amazing. The cinematography is the movie's golden aspect! From the opening scene till the end, the shocking terror of the battlefield captured on camera was never so visual. All Quiet on the Western Front is a harsh dramatic anti-war production, deserving of a 9.0 out of 10.
Honestly, this is a great companion piece to 1917 or vice-versa. Have you seen Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front yet? If not, I do recommend it! Thank you once again for reading & if you like the content, please subscribe!