It would be so easy to dismiss the new German film, All Quiet on the Western Front—a remake of the 1930 Best Picture winner—as another war film in the mold of Sam Mendes’s 2019 masterpiece, 1917. Like that film, it’s set during World War I, centers on a single soldier’s experience during battle, and is a magnificent achievement of filmmaking and gravity, but, despite the similarities, All Quiet on the Western Front is not 1917–but it is just as good.
The story follows Paul, played by Felix Kammerer in his first film role, and his three friends, young German men who are all excited to join the war effort and fight for their country at the beginning of World War I. Paul’s enthusiasm and naivete about what it means to be a soldier are quickly corrected by the horrors of war, as we watch him navigate through the mud and blood of battle, a sickening and devastating commentary on the lunacy of war.
It is a difficult watch, but the absolutely spectacular cinematography—as good, if not better than Roger Deakins’ Oscar-winning work on 1917—by James Friend keeps your eyes glued to the screen, a simmering and searing canvas of beauty amid the horrific realities of combat.
There are some much-needed moments of relief, as the film’s other storyline tracks the peace negotiations, but the emotional and physical contrasts between the clean, sanitized and civilized circumstances of the military and government leaders gathering to discuss the matter of ending the war makes the devastatingly horrific battle scenes all that much harder to watch—especially knowing that every moment the peace talks linger on, more lives are lost.
All Quiet on the Western Front, epically directed by Edward Berger, is a gorgeous, powerful and haunting treatise on the evils, stupidity and pointlessness of war, and is a must see for anyone who loves the craft of filmmaking and can endure another reminder of humanity’s most tragic flaw.
All Quiet on the Western Front is currently streaming on Netflix.