SYNOPSIS: All Quiet on the Western Front tells the gripping story of a young German soldier 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.
While the Sam Mendes’ helmed WWI epic, 1917 boasts a budget close to $100 million, on the contrary, the German made, Netflix funded Oscar-winning All Quiet On The Western Front only costs a quarter of the former and it looks equally amazing in terms of production values.
An adaptation of the classic German anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque, this marks the third but very first German film version. Four idealistic young men, Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer), Albert Kropp (Aaron Hilmer), Franz Muller (Moritz Klaus) and Ludwig Behm (Adrian Grunewald) excitingly signed up to join the war to fight against the French and their allies in Northern France.
However, ideals, dreams and soaring speeches are seldom associate with the cruelty and horrors on the battlefield as Paul and his friends soon find out. All Quiet On The Western Front mainly follows our main protagonist, Paul as he navigate friendship, the brutality of war through countless battlefields, trenches while at the same time, slowly succumbs to the tragic realities surrounding him.
Relatively unknown German director and screenwriter Edward Berger and cinematographer James Friend surprisingly managed to pull off a powerful, touching war story that screams epicness and beauty in every frame captured. Kudos to the production designer and costume designer as well especially in the beginning where the scene depicts the collection of uniforms from dead soldiers being collected, repair and distribute back to new recruits.
Newcomer Felix Kammerer perfectly captures the vulnerability of a young soldier being thrown right into a vicious environment not knowing if he is going to survive the next bombing or the next round of merciless bullets. His friendship with a fellow veteran soldier, Kat (Albrecht Schuch) added poignancy and realism to the entire grim affair as they support and encourages each other along the way.
Adding to the storyline is German official Matthias Erzberger (played by MCU alumnus Daniel Bruhl) and his delegation who attempts to begin armistice talks with the allies while a certain General Friedrichs who opposed the surrender decides to stir up one last fight against the French. You know there will always be some shit stirrers who can’t stand a moment of peace.
Yet all-time fans of war movies might find All Quiet On The Western Front somewhat familiar or frankly, a tad too unspectacular in terms of plotting and themes. Indeed, Paul is shown disillusioned and frustrated in the third act as most of his friends are dead at this point and his guilt and loss at what to do after the war continues to haunt him. Like many other wars prior or after, it’s a conflict that is not worth the death of millions and Berger’s movie once again enforced that message.
That said, All Quiet On The Western Front remains a satisfying and immersing watch despite running close to 150 minutes. It’s a movie that is never going to get old. The messages seemingly immortal. Take a look at what is happening between Russia and Ukraine now and you probably learnt that there won’t be a true winner whatever the outcome may be.
Review by Linus Tee