All Quiet on the Western Front, 2022.
Directed by Edward Berger.
Starring Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Edin Hasanović, Devid Striesow, Daniel Brühl, Moritz Klaus, Sebastian Hülk, Anton von Lucke, Michael Wittenborn, Luc Feit, Andreas Döhler, André Marcon, Tobias Langhoff, Adrian Grünewald, Thibault de Montalembert, Nico Ehrenteit, Wolf Danny Homann, Charles Morillon, Jakob Schmidt, Peter Sikorski, and Sascha Nathan.
A young German soldier’s terrifying experiences and distress on the western front during World War I.
Director Edward Berger wastes no time plunging into the hellish World War I trenches, beginning with a prologue fixated on German soldier Heinrich (Jakob Schmidt), a man not cut out for this. On the battlefield, he resembles a deer lost in the headlights, scrawny and stumbling around with practically zero chance of survival. It is no surprise that Heinrich perishes before the All Quiet on the Western Front title card graces the screen.
The execution is also astonishingly immersive, with a deafening electronic score from Volker Bertelmann, absurdly detailed production design (whether it be murky waters, dirt-covered bodies, graphic war wounds, and more), and James Friend’s stunning cinematography that captures a bleak monochrome beauty to these landscapes juxtaposed with bloodshed and traumatic violence.
As a technical achievement alone (and now with a German cast), All Quiet on the Western Front instantly justifies its existence as a remake of the 1930 Best Picture-winning talkie (Edward Berger co-writes this imagining of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel, writing alongside Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell), with more than enough fresh ideas and variations on the story to set itself apart. It also remains masterful in humanizing the opponent while illuminating the true enemy.
Heinrich’s uniform is collected and returned to a cleaning facility, ready to be donned inside battle. This time, the uniform ends up on Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer, who delivers a psychologically harrowing performance of shell shock and PTSD, practically able to tell hundreds of war stories through his facial expressions and body language), a 17-year-old forging his way into the German army alongside his friends, with everyone joining for a combination of reasons; there is militaristic propaganda, promises of heroic medals, becoming a heartthrob overnight and getting laid, and more personal reasons like proving a point to family members.
Within the blink of an eye, Paul discovers that he and everyone have been sold a load of bullshit, especially considering All Quiet on the Western Front begins in the year 1917 when the German army was already losing and struggling to stay in the fight. And while a good portion of the film redirects from the grisly carnage to focus on political posturing with hopes of reaching a cease-fire, there are German war generals that would rather feed every soldier that comes through the metaphorical assembly line to the gallows if it means saving face rather than surrendering.
It’s a stomach-churning cycle, most notably when Paul is broken down beyond repair yet hears a new batch of recruits marching and singing their way onto the front lines, the same tune his friends merrily sang about becoming objects of sexual desire following serving their country, unbeknownst that they too are marching into a slaughtering.
That’s one way of saying Paul loses his friends one by one, seemingly battle by battle. Some ending credits factoids detailing how little was accomplished across this monotony are further enraging. And while most of Paul’s friends are thinly-sketched characters (there were times I couldn’t tell one from the other, considering all the armor), the connection he shares with them is palpable, making us care about the damages and death.
Paul also develops a friendship with a comrade incapable of reading or writing, kindly reading letters from his wife to him. This character also expresses that Paul, an educated student with a college scholarship, could have done anything with his life but join this cause. If they make it out alive, that’s what he encourages Paul to do.
Whether or not one knows how that will shake out is irrelevant; All Quiet on the Western Front funnels these riveting character details into its unforgivingly grueling and unquestionably authentic look at the horrors of war. It’s a rattling experience that never lets up, framing its violence through an antiwar statement with the thematic impact of a mortar strike.
One of the most haunting images sees half of Paul’s face covered in dirt and mud due to the ensuing chaos, with the other half relatively recognizable; it’s the splitting of humanity and a loss of innocence at the hands of self-serving despicable war generals. And nearly 100 years later, the same story is still relevant. The death cycle continues, with filmmakers like Edward Berger choosing not to stay quiet on this front.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com