‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ Review: Dutifully Competent and Dull

The reality of modern war movies – or, at least, the good ones – is that they tend to be terrifying and inspiring at the same time. You could say that’s a contradiction that grows out of the ethnic, larger than life nature of the film’s medium. Or you could say that it is a fact that expresses something fundamental about war: that the very reason that war leads, for all its horror and destruction and death, is to there is something in human nature that is drawn to war. The movies, in their way, act this out for us. Again, though, I’m talking about the good ones. There is no more powerful example than “Saving Private Ryan.” I have never seen a war movie more interesting, and I have never seen a war movie that made me face, more memorably, the unspeakable fear of blood and the destruction of war.

On the other hand, the new German version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” feels like a stripped-down experience – morally, spiritually and dramatically. Based on the 1928 novel by Erich Maria Remarque, it’s not a film that tries to turn the infamous meat grinder horror of WWI trench warfare into a kind of “spectrum”, as in Sam Mendes’ video game apocalypse. “1917” did. The hero of the film, Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), is a student who, three years after the war, enlists in the German Imperial Army to fight for his father. Soon he will be sent to the Western Front, a place where millions of soldiers have already died in a murderous turf war where turf does not exchange hands.

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Over the course of the war, the land “captured” on the Western Front was scarce; the position of the front line did not move more than half a mile. So why did all these soldiers die? No reason. Due to a historical accident – one could say obscene – that the methods of combat were caught in the First World War between an older “classical” stationary method of combat and the new reality of killing at a distance made possible by technology. By the end of the war, 17 million men had fallen between these cracks.

The 1930 Hollywood version of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” directed by Lewis Milestone, is widely regarded as an anti-war landmark. But, of course, if you watch it now, the scenes of the war won’t make audiences shudder like they did a hundred years ago. The bar for horror and carnage on screen was raised much further than that. Edward Berger, the director of the new “All Quiet,” presents his war scenes in what has become the usual standard bombs exploding in the ground, debris flying everywhere, war-and-hell-out. that there is violence. – a random mode of merciless destruction. It does it competently, but no better than that; it doesn’t begin to touch the level of imagination that has captured us in the war cinema of Spielberg, Kubrick, Coppola, Stone, Klimov. Coming out of the trenches, Paul and his fellow soldiers are met with merciless bullets, they are knocked down in the mud, they are killed in the gut or the head, they are attacking them with bayonets and machetes. .

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Yet the pale, gentle-hearted Paul, whose new uniform has come from the body of a fallen soldier (a point intended to show the never-ending cycle of death of the First World War), somehow fighting on and surviving. He strikes us as a mild-mannered young man, but inside is a ruthless killer. Aiming to shoot one soldier, then knife another, he will, of course, be a desperate action hero, and I put it that way only because I didn’t find his acumen on the a particularly decisive battlefield. Berger, as a filmmaker, wants to bring us “closer” to war, but the horror in “All Quiet on the Western Front” is in your face and also rather stilted in its presentation. Maybe that’s why it feels numbing.

The great war movies are not averse to mixing personal drama into the combat. They show characters as edgy and interpreted as a theater of violence. But the new “All Quiet on the Western Front” is two and a half hours of stunning minimalism, as if this is somehow a measure of the film’s integrity. The soldiers, including Paul, are barely sketched in, and it’s a real treat when the film cuts to standard shots of the German vice-chancellor, Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl), as he try to arrange peace with the French generals who. they defeated the German army. The discussions are one-sided; the French, who hold all the cards, want to comply with their terms. But we record, behind Erzberger, the unspeakable disgust for the death of the German officers, which will be carried forward to the next war.

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Stanley Kubrick, with “Paths of Glory”, made the best film there is still about trench warfare, and he was not shy about introducing us to the real drama. “All Quiet on the Western Front” coalesces, so that even once the weapon has been struck there is yet another combat incident, all showing, with a very clear sad irony, that the body count in the First World War kept going up for no reason. Any sane person would agree with that. But “All Quiet on the Western Front” is the war film as a thesis statement. It still makes its point, leaving you less broken than empty.


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