Written by: Edward Berger, Ian Stokell, Lesley Paterson
Starring: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Daniel Brühl, Aaron Hilmer, Moritz Klaus
Countries sending out young men to fight wars over political issues remains one of the more baffling ideas that are freely accepted in society. A hellish experience that many war films seek to glamourize because of the bravery of the men involved. It’s what makes anti-war films all the more important in displaying the truth of the horror involved with this inhumane method of solving disputes. Taking the baton from the novel and legendary feature, this iteration of All Quiet on the Western Front displays the true evil involved in this whole practice.
In the heat of World War I, trench warfare is killing off many German soldiers, but a new adventurous batch including young Paul (Felix Kammerer) are ready to go out there and fight for their country. They then quickly find out that the supposed honor involved with going off to war does not measure up to the horrendous conditions when they arrive.
There can never be enough anti-war films out there to counterbalance the deluge of propaganda to engage in killing your fellow man for the sake of disagreements by politicians. This feature adapts the long-famous tale that takes place during World War I and it displays the complete cycle of how young men enter this war machine with hopes and come out either dead or horribly mentally and/or physically harmed. The opening sequence does well to highlight where it starts with a young man making his way through a battle and then continuous scenes showing clothing and other materials are taken from dead soldiers, washed, resewn, and recycled for a fresh new batch of soldiers who will share the same fate. A damning sequence but one containing no lies about the reality of this situation. They have to be efficient, as human lives are expendable, but not the uniforms riddled with bullet holes that can be sewn up and sent back to the trenches.
The excitement held by Paul and his friends carries this naivete of lambs unknowingly sent to slaughter. We all know what their fate will be, including the recruiters, but not them. They think they will make a difference and deliver victory in this war for their nation. It can be seen as a horror movie where you want to yell at these individuals to not go down the dark hallway as we know what will await them. This film then wastes no time when they get to the battlefield and they realize they have just stepped into hell.
On a structural level, this feature shows the perspective of the soldiers on the ground while also the discussion happening by the officials negotiating a potential armistice to end this bloodshed. Director Edward Berger knows exactly what he’s doing with this dichotomy in displaying the lavishness of these officials and the large proclamations they have about the efforts of this war while sitting comfortably in a warm room with plenty of freshly-made food available to them. The film then smartly cuts to a sequence where hundreds of young men fall to the ground after being pierced by bullets or blown to pieces by an explosive. These two efforts are not the same and it definitely works in raising the blood pressure of the viewers.
As with many films, much of what this film excels in is bringing you into the action of what is going on during these battles. However, much like the thesis of this entire story, it does not show the glory and bravery of these shoulders but rather the horror of having to charge with bullets coming your way, or the brutality of having to kill another person through hand-to-hand combat. None of it is pretty, nor should it ever be portrayed in that way. This film brings you into hell on Earth where if you survive these onslaughts and charges, you could still die from the conditions in the trenches, which harvested disease. The crafts on display during throughout this feature are simply sublime and it certainly helps with the immersion this film seeks to present to audiences as a viewing experience. No film has been as harrowing in its depiction and the impact it has on the individuals since Elem Klimov’s Come and See, which is certainly saying something. It becomes difficult to watch on many occasions but becomes incredibly vital in witnessing.
While the violence makes up a prominent portion of the film, the true sadness comes from Paul seeing those around him lose their lives. War creates a sense of co-dependency and friendships this special circumstance forges with fire. He shares little moments that are incredibly heartwarming and moving, but the inevitable will assuredly arrive at some point where they will die. No matter how many warnings may come with it, it’s still heartbreaking when it occurs. Considering these young men came into this with such zeal and are killed by others just like them, sold in this idea of a greater good to slaughter others for. It makes the quiet moments that much richer.
Trying to remake one of the greatest films ever made certainly is quite the task to take on, but this iteration of All Quiet on the Western Front does more than justify its existence. It takes this ever-vital story and injects modern filmmaking capabilities to present this to a new audience and done through the language and perspective of the nation of the original novel. It adds a fresh perspective and a well-warranted one.