All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)
All Quiet on the Western Front (2022)

Genre: Action, Drama, and War Running Time: 2 hrs. 28 min.

Release Date: October 28th, 2022 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Edward Berger Actors: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Moritz Klaus, Adrian Grunewald, Edin Hasanovic, Daniel Bruhl, Devid Striesow, Andreas Dohler

 


 

B

eginning immediately with the horrors of trench warfare, young German soldiers leap into battle, getting gunned down, blown apart, and tripped up by swathes of bloodied bodies that litter an arena of death and destruction. This striking opening is intended to evoke similar emotions and reactions to the famous beach sequence from “Saving Private Ryan,” demonstrating the mind-numbing frightfulness of war. Here, that conflict is World War I, which features different types of technologies and more primitive weaponry due to the era, but it’s no less harrowing, particularly with the visual perfections afforded by 21st-century filmmaking.

In the spring of 1917 in Northern Germany, during the third year of the war, a group of enthusiastic, optimistic students rush to join the army, excited to ship directly to the front line, where honor and victory will be had. Private Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer), only 18 years old, defies his family’s wishes and enlists, bright-eyed and excited, anxious to do his part in what will surely be a glorious, righteous mission for the fatherland. “I’m not being left behind here.”

Like in so many armed conflicts across the world, before and after, propaganda and misinformation work tirelessly to conceal the truths – especially to commoners who need to keep up their morale. Sure enough, within minutes of arriving at the western front, the situation isn’t as rosy as suggested; explosions surround the troops as they march, commanding officers bark orders ruthlessly, the cold and rain are unforgiving, and the trenches are the stuff of nightmares. “You will almost certainly be dead by dawn.”

As with the previous feature adaptation from 1930, this picture exhibits an obvious anti-war intent, chronicling misguided youths as they realize entirely too late that they’re pawns in a fight in which they have no control or power (here, an unnecessary distraction arises from distant officials attempting to diplomatically stop the onslaught, taking away from the engrossing path of the teenage gun-fodder). Episode after episode of shelling, aggressions, and bodies collapsing in gruesome heaps graphically illustrates how tiny and inconsequential individuals are in the war machine; Paul and his comrades don’t really know what exactly they’re fighting for, or who they’re fighting against (one of the most fascinating aspects of the tale, since it places German soldiers as the protagonists – something strikingly uncommon for American audiences, then and now). Amusingly, the advances in moviemaking techniques and effects make this tale a rather excellent option for a remake; the 1930 production, though effective in its message and storytelling, certainly couldn’t come close to the visual realism (characters even use the bathroom in this reimagining) and atrociousness presented here (alongside the vivid color palette).

With those improvements come a specific focus on cinematographic precision and modern aesthetics, particularly with aerial views, widescreen environments, landscapes of carnage, and lengthy sequences with minimal cuts. The imagery is exceptional (and alarming), not just in the bloodshed, which is a distinct point of updating (or reintroducing this work to modern viewers), but also in the compositions of contrasting figures and structures and distances. This is augmented by loud, jarring musical cues and motifs, as well as grisly sound effects, orchestrating a grim vision of shattered innocence, time and adolescent experiences lost, and devastation on unthinkable levels. The photography will no doubt be recognized during awards season.

“People are saying the war will be over soon.” From Paul’s perspective, there’s not much sense questioning orders, as his group of grunts remain mostly ignorant of the true situation; they’re in the most hazardous position for casualties, but the most helpless for determining the strategic reasonableness of military movements. Nevertheless, feelings of panic, desperation, and fragility, and thoughts of self-preservation and what exactly they’re dying for continually arise; infantrymen’s lives are meaningless to the uninvolved generals commanding them from afar (and dining luxuriously).

Despite the recent release of “1917,” that rare project about the Great War, the events depicted here are of an almost unrecognizably ghastly nature (of course, they also cover a greater period). Many moments are overkill, portraying excessively abominable violence – yet it’s difficult to look away, considering the potency and gravity; there’s definitely no sugar-coating going on. In this regard, the film somewhat resembles “300,” with wave after wave of increasingly more powerful, terrifying weapons of warfare, ripping through the bodies of troops in escalating fashions of butchery. With the ideas of war being futile and catastrophic, and the repetitious disorder and anguish, it’s all a little too long. But the finale is still gut-wrenching and tragic, reiterating just how visually and thematically upsetting an earnest, modernized account of combat can be.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10