Thursday, October 27, 2022

All Quiet on the Western Front - Review


Of the two World Wars, World War I seems remarkably underrepresented on a film scale when compared to it’s far more studied follow up of the 1940s. There are, of course, exceptions, but the Great War has only a handful of good to great interpretations for the silver screen. Recently there has been Sam Mendes’ 1917 and the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, but before then, the most well known of the bunch was likely All Quiet on the Western Front, a film released originally nearly 100 years ago, and remade now for Netflix.

Set amidst the closing years of World War I, the enthusiasm of a 17-year-old Paul quickly becomes dread when faced with the reality of the Western Front. Through the terror and horror that is war, particularly the dreadful conditions of trench warfare and the brutality that when on there, Paul and others fight just to survive each passing day of this awful period in human history. 

Director Edward Berger doesn’t wait around to get into the hellish trenches of the titular front, beginning with an introduction with a character named Heinrich, who is caught amongst this terrifying scene. The sights, sounds and general chaos of war come through in this scene, all before the title card rolls. It perfectly sets the tone of Berger’s modern remake, a visceral experience that’s immersive in all the worst ways. 

This film is a technical achievement that alone justifies the remaking of the 1930s classic. Along with Berger’s direction, the deafening score of Volker Bertelmann and the stunning cinematography of James Friend add to this bleak landscape, spattered with heaps of mud and blood. When combined, with enough fresh ideas and changes to the story as well, All Quiet on the Western Front feels like its own vision, a reminder of how horrid war is.

There is simply no time to catch your breath during the two and a half hour runtime. From the blistering opening scene, to the quick discovery by Paul and his friends about the reality of what they signed up for, to every moment of violence and trauma laid out along the way, All Quiet on the Western Front has a clear message. This is all a cycle, an endless one, that throws in young men just hoping to serve their country, and churns them out, reusing their uniforms for the nest bright eyed 18-year-old who has the wrong idea. 

In many ways, this classic story, one written many decades ago at this point, still holds relevance. War has never ended, and probably never will, and thus the cycle hasn’t changed, it’s simply evolved. There are still men, and women now, that feel the call to fight for their country, all the while generals and politicians decide their fate behind the safety of closed doors. The cycle hasn’t broken, and Edward Berger has made a film to remind us all to not stay quiet. 

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