“All Quiet on the Western Front” (“Im Westen nichts Neuen”)


Metacritic (6/10), Letterboxd (3/5), Imdb.com (6/10)

War is hell. We all know that. But do we really need to be reminded of that? Given mankind’s propensity for conflict, one might say yes. However, how emphatically need that message be stressed? The latest version of this time-honored 1929 anti-war novel by author and military veteran Erich Maria Remarque tells the story of an idealistic young German soldier (Felix Kammerer) who sets off with friends to fight in World War I, seeing it as his patriotic duty and a grand coming of age adventure. Before long, however, he experiences the brutality and futility of combat as he watches his buddies die horrific deaths under deplorable conditions. And, as the story wears on, the film depicts the extreme emotional and physical stress it places on soldiers in the waning days of the war immediately prior to the November 1918 armistice that ended the fighting. In doing this, the picture shines a bright light on the perils of wartime atrocities and blind nationalism in its attempt to drive home the story’s anti-war message. Nevertheless, for a production that professes to convey this sentiment, it incorporates a plethora of exceedingly graphic battle footage, so much so that it often verges on dangerously disturbing combat porn that drones on seemingly endlessly. It’s almost as if viewers are subjected to a cinematic symposium illustrating the myriad ways that people can be killed. While it’s one thing not to hold anything back, there’s such a thing as overkill, and this offering definitely pushes those boundaries. In light of that, writer-director Edward Berger’s latest is an overlong, tedious, difficult watch whose primary thematic intent is overshadowed by its visuals, a problem that tends to dilute the value of those scenes in which its principal aim is achieved (albeit eclipsed). It also never attains the heroic quality of a film like “1917” (2019), instead opting for an uber-realistic, in-your-face, supremely depressing approach. To its credit, the cinematography of this release is often compelling (if gratuitous at times), and Kammerer’s lead performance captures the range of conflicted emotions his character experiences. But, despite the many accolades that the film has received thus far, the filmmaker’s take on this tale is all a bit much for me, just as I suspect it might also be for many would-be viewers.