“All Quiet on the Western Front” (2022)- Movie Review

Writer/Director: Edward Berger

Starring: Felix Kammerer, Daniel Bruhl, Albrecht Schuch

                                                                                                        ‘Extraordinary Epic’

Stories of German armies are scarcely depicted in war movies. No longer as treasured as lists written to prevent Jewish massacres, war movies have lost abilities to attract audiences towards theaters. Interest in watching Private Ryan veterans endure despair has started to disappear. Audiences are no longer over-the-moon about watching the platoon. Portraying German soldiers as inglorious Nazis has destroyed a glorious genre. Focusing on Americans’ point-of-view, modern war movies have become excruciating to sit through. To create successful WWII blockbusters, filmmakers must balance warfare spectacle with characters for whom audiences’ care. Directors have reconstructed 1917 battles, but lost sight of stories that deserve to be seen. Storytelling has been lost in a shuffle in movies emphasizing technical spectacle. Before the thin red line faced declines, war movies dominated headlines. During the 1930’s, prior to Hitler’s downfall audiences flocked to theaters to see German soldiers. Unlike the modern-day age, classics used to engage audiences using anti-war messages. In an era when Dunkirk battles were publicized, it’s no surprise interest in war movies began to rise. For instance, Lewis Milestone’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” set milestones by portraying German soldiers as heroes of war zones. A classic far ahead of its time, it raised the bar for movies about war. Despite its legendary legacy, the classic has faded into obscurity in the 21st Century. Why is the Western Front hard to confront? 

Now, Edward Berger reimagines the classic in his Oscar-nominated film “All Quiet on the Western Front”. An old-fashioned, heartbreaking and sweeping remake, it confronts experiences of the Western Front. Berger commemorates legendary European veterans. Boasting immersive production-design, empathetic storytelling and strong performances, it’s an extraordinary epic. Although “All Quiet on the Western Front” is unforgettable, it isn’t flawless. It’s unevenly paced, lacking character development. Nevertheless, it offers old-fashioned entertainment for war genre fans.

Amidst WWI, “All Quiet on the Western Front” follows a German veteran that embarks on dangerous missions to witness war’s dehumanization. Felix Kammerer portrays Paul Baumer, a naive teenager with ambition to become a veteran. Paul’s dreams materialize into reality when he enlists in his country’s army. However, Paul reevaluates ambition of becoming a veteran following Western Front destruction. Witnessing soul-crushing atrocities, Paul questions loyalty towards his country.

Edward Berger is fascinated in teenagers questioning identities in war-torn countries. Following 2014’s “Jack”, Berger has become an excellent European filmmaker. With “All Quiet on the Western Front”, however, Berger creates a historical epic. It’s Berger’s attempt reimagining a classic novel about German soldiers that are sympathetic, but he succeeds. Through captivating cinematography, Berger draws viewers into a German soldier’s mission to quietly confront Western Front destruction. Evoking Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”, Berger captures a German’s worldview. Recalling Oskar Schindler’s depression witnessing ghettos liquidation, Paul denounces Western Front destruction. Alongside DP James Friend, Berger places viewers into German soldiers’ shoes. Berger honors Germany, constructing a film that demands to be seen on the big-screen. 

If German soldiers’ stories don’t attract you towards theaters, however, there’s several reasons to see “All Quiet on the Western Front”. One department where the remake surpasses its predecessor is sound-design. Whereas Milestone’s classic featured inaudible sounds, Berger uses modern sounds capturing WWI trauma. Assisted by sound-designer Frank Kruse, Berger uses diegetic sounds to capture warfare. Whether it’s explosions or gunfire, diegetic sounds recreate WWI trenches. For instance, sound-design builds tension during tank attacks sequence. During this nerve-wracking sequence, towering tanks threaten German soldiers. One appreciates diegetic sounds following teen soldiers in 1917 reminiscent of Sam Mendes’ “1917”. Diegetic sounds are tricky techniques. As Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” proved, overbearing diegetic sounds become distractions. Nevertheless, it succeeds. Furthermore, Sven Budelmann’s editing is extraordinary. Evoking Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”, cross-cutting builds tension. Through superb set-design, Berger commemorates WWI.

Another extraordinary “All Quiet on the Western Front” aspect is its screenplay. Berger’s screenwriting strength is creating compassionate German veteran depictions. If there’s downsides to the genre, it has commonly taken sides against German veterans as genocide perpetrators. For instance, Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds” spread stereotypes about German veterans being inglorious Nazis without humanity that’s glorious. Fortunately, however, “All Quiet on the Western Front” avoids stereotypes. Evoking Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”, Berger expertly uses minimal dialogue to convey veterans’ companionship. Like Captain Miller’s quiet interactions with comrades following deafening D-Day destruction, Paul confides in veterans. Minimal dialogue is a tricky technique to employ in war movies. Whereas sequences of silence elevated Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now”, today such scenes test modern audiences’ patience. Minimal dialogue elevates true stories about Jewish pianists in WWII (ex. Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist”). As Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” demonstrated, silent sequences of poetry recited by soldiers drag down war movies’ momentum. Nevertheless, it succeeds. Through thought-provoking storytelling, Berger celebrates martyrs.

One appreciates powerful performances. 

Felix Kammerer delivers a star-making performance as Paul Baumer. In his breakthrough role, Kammerer pours heart and soul into a veteran that questions goals following an emotional toll. It’s challenging to capture the trauma of a soldier during the WWI era, but Kammerer succeeds. Evoking Charlie Sheen in Oliver Stone’s “Platoon”, Kammerer embodies a conflicted soldier that no longer feels over-the-moon about joining the platoon. With riveting expressions, he conveys the angst, frustrations and grief of a German veteran. It’s a phenomenal performance suggesting Kammerer is destined success. 

The supporting cast is superb and crafts a strong camaraderie. Daniel Bruhl is dazzling, bringing vigor to a commemorated politician under extreme pressure to salvage soldiers in grave danger. Albrecht Schuch is spellbinding, capturing intelligence of a veteran providing soldiers assistance. Conclusively, Edin Hasanovic demands acknowledgments. As a wise-cracking veteran, he’s hilarious.

Despite strong performances, however, “All Quiet on the Western Front” can’t confront trenches of its superior predecessor on the Western Front. Unlike the book, the film includes unnecessary political subplots. Sequences highlighting leaders’ discussions aren’t as engrossing as Paul’s trenches expedition. As Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Downfall” proved, political subplots elevate biopics about controversial dictators that are destined downfall destruction. Moreover, the film lacks compelling character development. Beger’s decision to exclude book details is bold but it leaves little emotional connection. For instance, Paul is a one-dimensional soldier whom we rarely get to know on a personal level beyond battles. As Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” demonstrated, it’s essential for audiences to empathize with soldiers humiliated by intimidating instructors. Due to important book details’ omission, the adaptation pales in comparison to its superior source material which manufactured a more emotionally investing tale. Consequently, the remake falters.

Nevertheless, fans of the war movie genre will certainly recognize “All Quiet on the Western Front” and so will moviegoers seeking educational entertainment. An extraordinary historical epic, it suggests German veterans that fought in 1917 battle deserve to be seen on a big-screen. Centuries after brave German soldiers quietly overcame disappointments of Western Front destruction in World War I without getting acknowledgement, it’s a brave commemoration of armies whose centuries-old stories challenge stereotype about one of the world’s most misunderstood nations.

A tribute towards dedicated Private Ryan veterans that deserve to be celebrated, hopefully it will spark newfound interest in soldiers motivated to fight hatred after being drafted whose stories deserve to be recounted in schools rather than taken for granted.

Like precious lists penned by businessmen to rescue persecuted Jews from painful massacres, it represents glimmers of hope for a genre that has often depicted German soldiers as evil Nazi commanders that commit mass genocide disasters.

In a genre that has faced declines, hopefully it will convince modern-day filmmakers the key to making a successful war film that attracts news headlines is telling stories on humane soldiers on the thin red line rather than focusing on technical effects that shine. 

As breathtaking as the butterflies that symbolize hope for soldiers in dreary Western Front skies, war movies haven’t lost ability to surprise when telling stories through eyes of wise German veterans skilled at looting supplies with whom audiences empathize.

4/5 stars

                                                       

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