Director Edward Berger brings a modernized version of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic novel to the screen in Netflix’s All Quiet on the Western Front. Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell co-write the screenplay with the film’s director.
Before I delve into my review, I want to point out to viewers that the film is entirely in German with English subtitles. Concurrently like the first adaptation and source material, the film is anti-war. All Quiet on the Western Front tells the gripping story of a young German soldier named Paul on the Western Front of World War I.
Paul and his comrades experience first-hand how the initial euphoria of war turns into desperation and fear as they fight for their lives and each other in the trenches. As we meet Paul (Felix Kammerer) for the first time in 1917, he’s a fresh-faced, excited 17-year-old who is signing up with forged papers because he doesn’t want to get left behind by his three friends, who believe that enlisting will help them “meet girls” in the future.
Even as he receives this clearly second-hand uniform, he has a sense of uncertainty, and his nerves are well and genuinely jangled by the time his regiment reaches the trenches behind which he will be fighting. In response to the young man flailing around with his gas mask, Paul Bäumer’s superior barks at him, “You won’t survive until dawn,” after witnessing the young man flail around with his mask on and on. To punish Bäumer, he is put on night watch, where he rapidly learns the ropes by discovering them on his own. As Bäumer emerges from under a beam, muddied and slightly bloodied, wondering what on earth he’s gotten himself into, he narrowly avoids that earlier “prophecy” fulfilled, as he emerges from beneath a beam only narrowly avoiding its fulfillment.
Edward Berger not only brilliantly depicts the physical and psychological toll that what Bäumer witnesses has on him by dividing the story into two time periods, the second being 18 months later during the last weeks of the conflict, he brilliantly juxtaposes flashes of action and violence with quiet contemplation and stillness throughout the film. There is a scene in the movie where Bäumer is trapped in a muddy hole with a soldier on the other side. This scene is both disquieting and entrancing at the same time. In this case, it is about a desperate fight for survival and the profound regret that follows it.
If you follow my writing, you know, in addition to being an Army Brat, that I’m an Air Force vet who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom, so military-themed films hit a little different. I recall seeing the original version of All Quiet on the Western Front during a film studies my junior year of high school. One of our first assignments was to compare and contrast that film with Saving Private Ryan, which was very popular at the time.
I still remember my teacher telling us the book is far more engaging, as the written word is much more emotionally powerful than film may ever be. Nevertheless, for the time it was released, the OG version of All Quiet on the Western Front was very well done. The latest version is about as violent as you would expect from a war film in 2022. At its core, All Quiet on the Western Front succeeds in showing us stirring detail by showing us the consequences and effects of war.
Final Grade: B+
All Quiet on the Western Front is streaming on Netflix tomorrow, 10/28/2022. However, if you can see it on the big screen, I urge you to do so.
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