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

It’s a reality of modern war movies – or at least the good ones – that they tend to be scary and fun at the same time. You could say this is a contradiction that grows out of the kinetic, larger-than-life nature of the film medium. Or you could say that it says something fundamental about war: the reason why war goes on is because there is something in human nature that is drawn to war, to terror and destruction and death. The movies, in their way, show us this. Again, I’m talking about the good ones. There is no more powerful example than “Saving Private Ryan.” I have never seen a more exciting war movie, and I have never seen a war movie with a more memorable, indescribably blood-curdling horror and devastation of war.

In contrast, the new German version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” sounds like a stripped-down experience – morally, spiritually and dramatically. In the year Based on the 1928 novel by Eric Maria Remarque, it’s not a film that tries to turn the gruesome meat-grinder horror of World War I into a “spectacle,” the way Sam Mendes’ video game Apocalypse was portrayed. “1917” did. The film’s hero, Paul Baumer (Felix Kammer), is a student who joins the Imperial German Army to fight for the fatherland during the three years of the war. Soon he was sent to the Western Front, where millions of soldiers went to their deaths in what was essentially a killing field war where no hand was exchanged.

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The “holding” of land on the Western Front during the war was small; The front line position never moved more than half a mile. So why did all these soldiers die? without reason. Due to a tragic – one might say obscene – historical accident: the method of combat in WWI was caught between the old “classical” type of weapon and the new reality of long-range slaughter created by technology. By the end of the war, 17 million people had fallen between these cracks.

The 1930 Hollywood version of All Quiet on the Western Front, directed by Lewis Milestone, is considered a landmark anti-war film. But, of course, if you look at it now, war scenes don’t shock viewers the way they did a century ago. The bar for on-screen terror and carnage has been raised beyond that. Edward Berger, the director of the new “All Quiet,” standardizes the war scene with existential bombs-exploding-on-the-ground, debris-flying-everywhere, war-is-hell-because-it’s-violence-so-randomly merciless destruction. He does it efficiently, but not better than that; It doesn’t even begin to touch the level of imagination that holds us in the war cinema of Spielberg, Kubrick, Coppola, Stone, Klimov. Coming out of the pit, Paul and the soldiers with him faced a merciless hail of bullets, battered on the forehead in the mud, shot in the gut or head, attacked with shields and clubs. .

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A still-pale, pale-hearted Paul, whose newly-released uniform has fallen from the corpse of a fallen soldier (a point intended to illustrate the never-ending cycle of death in WWI), somehow manages to fight and survive. He strikes us as a gentle young man, but inside is a ruthless killer. Spinning to shoot one soldier, then stabbing another, he becomes, essentially, a desperate action hero, and I present it this way because I don’t find his skills on the battlefield particularly convincing. As a filmmaker, Berger wants to get “closer” to war, but the horror in “All Quiet on the Western Front” is in-your-face and refined in its presentation. Maybe that’s why it feels so numb.

Great war movies are not sloppy about mixing personal drama into combat. Characters are described as villains and their violent theatrics. But the new “All Quiet on the Western Front” is two and a half hours of dramatic understatement, which somehow seems to measure the film’s credibility. The soldiers, including Paul, are barely drawn and the film has a lot of fun watching German Vice Chancellor Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) trying to make peace with the French generals. They defeated the German army. The negotiation is one-sided; The French, who hold all the cards, want to submit to their terms. But we record, behind Erzberger, the inevitable resentment of the German officers, which will certainly carry over into the next war.

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Stanley Kubrick made the greatest film about trench warfare to date with “Streets of Glory,” and he’s not shy about engaging us in realistic drama. “Silent on the Western Front” wood is flying, so that once the war has been fought there is another battle, all of which shows, with the sad irony, that the body count in the First World War was rising without reason. A sane person would agree with that. Yet “All Quiet on the Western Front” is a war film like a thesis statement. He continues to make the point, leaving you less than empty.


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