Film Review: All Quiet on the Western Front

By Matthew Moorcroft

Strong Recommendation

  • Directed by Edward Berger
  • Starring Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Moritz Klaus, Daniel Bruhl
  • R

The original All Quiet on the Western Front is commonly cited as the first great American anti-war film, a sentiment that hasn’t really gone away as it ended up becoming America’s only really great anti-war film until Saving Private Ryan. And even then, including that film, the tendency to showcase war as horrific but also a necessary evil hasn’t gone away. A post-Nazi world will do that, though, and the original book that All Quiet on the Western Front is based on was written prior to the advent of the Third Reich and World War II so any modern adaptation of the book would have to contend with that eventual history.

As such, All Quiet on the Western Front, while mostly following the beats of the story, is a much different adaptation then prior versions, opting to hone in as equally on the mechanics of war just as much as the actual horrors itself. Do not get me wrong – All Quiet on the Western Front does not fuck around, nor does it want to. It puts you basically in the thick of it almost immediately and there is very little in the way of actual breathing room, instead replaced by a constant sense of dread and fear. Each gunshot, every step, and each small little movement is just pure despair. There is no escape from the front lines.

And yet we see the “fat pigs” as the soldiers call them in their castles, their trains, their buildings. While the young men go to die, the old men deliberate. What was once a story about the horrific causalities that war becomes a condemnation of power structures at large and their inability to see past their own egos – something only a modern recontextualization could do with the realization that World War II ended up happening. Erich Maria Remarque’s original book ended up falling on deaf ears, nothing changed. And even today we are still facing this as the war in Ukraine continues and before the conflicts in Syria and the Iraq War and you start to ask yourself what is really the point? The film even begins and ends the same – a soldier asked for collections of dog tags. The deaths just pile up, and nobody cares.

Edward Berger, a relative unknown here in North America but a prominent figure in Germany, tackles his first real big budget effort with ease. From the first wide shot to the last, each frame of this just looks immaculate, and it sounds great too. A droning, almost dull noise characterizes Volker Bertelmann’s score and the immense sound work on display from all the technical proceeding make this a truly well crafted picture, and if anything the film’s wizardry behind the scenes makes this retelling worth the effort. It’s easy to write off these films technically due to them having been done so many times but it’s also when done right, it’s done right and this is how you do it.

The obvious standout here is newcomer Felix Kammerer, who has to run the gambit of emotions from excited to outright catanionic, but the real MVP might be Albrecht Schuch whose empathetic portrayal of Kat, the older grizzled mentor and friend of our lead Paul, makes the inevitability of the war all the more tragic. Daniel Bruhl is mostly relegated to subplots about the armistice but still brings a necessary gravitas, and it’s in those sections the film is able to find a great juxtaposition between the rich and the poor, the power and the powerless.

And while it remains to be seen if the film makes a splash beyond simply being yet the second stellar adaptation of a stellar novel, as it remains, it’s one of the best audio-visual feasts of the year. It’s impactful in the right ways, leaving you roughed up and shaking, but it’s a perfect encapsulation as to why this story deserves to keep being told over and over again. Great stuff across the board on this one.

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