Director Edward Berger‘s screen adaptation of the noted novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a timely, effective interpretation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic story. This beautiful and brutal film features gorgeous cinematography, strong performances, and offers a powerful retelling of a young German soldier’s terrifying experience on the Western front during World War I.
Adapted for the screen by Berger and co-writers Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell, the script stays mostly true to the original text (the film adds a new storyline about armistice negotiations that works very well). Their story still focuses on Paul (Felix Kammerer), a young man who is so excited to sign up to fight for his country that he can’t wait to enlist and become a soldier. When his chance finally arrives, Paul enthusiastically volunteers. It’s a different story once he and his idealistic comrades get to the front lines and are faced with the harsh realities that await, and their collective euphoria quickly fades. The young men’s unbridled enthusiasm turns into palpable fear and terror as they fight for their lives in the trenches.
What follows is a harrowing tale of desperation, friendship, courage, perseverance, and the cost of conflict. It’s a point that Berger effectively drives home by showing contrasting scenes of those in power versus the men actually putting their lives on the line. What is a human life worth when the people in charge have no problem collecting corpses of dead soldiers, washing their uniforms, ripping off their name tags, and redistributing them to new recruits?
Featuring excellent performances from entire cast, a bond is quickly created between these men and the audience. They’re so likeable and relatable that even minor characters leave a lasting impact. Much of this is a result of the eye-level camerawork that makes you feel as if you are fighting alongside these soldiers.
The film features bloody, graphic wartime violence that is necessary rather than gratuitous, and it certainly goes a long way in proving a strong point about the horrific realities of war. The intense psychological toll is explored too, especially as Paul and his friends experience a range of emotions that span everything from guilt and contempt to sadness and surrender.
The extensive battle scenes are macabre but equally jaw-dropping, with expertly choreographed action and extraordinary cinematography that’s made even more potent by James Friend‘s choice of shooting with a palate of dark blues and grays. The film is striking and visually impressive from beginning to end, offering an effective and profound representation of the realities of combat. Berger confronts the bloody death toll with graphic depictions of men being stabbed, shot, set on fire, drowned, mutilated, amputated, blown up by grenades, and crushed to death by tanks. His camera never averts its lens, putting viewers right there on the battlefield next to the soldiers who are staring down their own mortality. You can feel the futility in fighting and the overall meaninglessness of war.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is powerful filmmaking in the highest regard.
By: Louisa Moore