Star Rating:

All Quiet on the Western Front

Streaming On: Watch All Quiet on the Western Front on Netflix

Director: Edward Berger

Actors: Daniel Bruhl, Felix Kammerer

Release Date: Friday 28th October 2022

Genre(s): Drama, War

Running time: 147 minutes

Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), eager to join his classmates as soldiers for the German Empire in World War I, lies about his age and enlists. Almost immediately, Paul is sent to the trenches and is faced with the horrifying reality of warfare. Taken under the wing of more experienced soldiers like Tjaden (Edin Hasanovic) and Kat (Albrecht Schuch), Paul struggles to survive and keep himself alive in the relentless onslaught of the war...

Although 'All Quiet on the Western Front' was written in the German language, and subsequent adaptations of the novel have used either British or American filmmakers, this is the very first adaptation made in German with German actors. As it's one of the quintessential anti-war novels (and was banned and burned in Nazi Germany), it feels strange that an adaptation has never been mounted until now. Yet, like so many things, it's become sickeningly relevant in today's world. The opening sequence, in particular, shows rows upon rows of young men gleefully signing up to join the war machine, filled with ideas of patriotism and nationalist fervour, while the war machine simply takes dead uniforms, strips them off, washes them, and sends them out again. In 'All Quiet on the Western Front', it's a poignant reminder that the message of the novel still needs to be sent up again - that war is nothing more than mindless slaughter.

Director Edward Berger makes use of the beautiful and haunting landscape that sits just beyond the reach of the trenches. There are frosted glens, shafts of light peering through deep forests, and woodland creatures juxtaposed with endless mud and dead bodies. The contrast sharpens everything - the beauty of nature and the destruction of war.

Felix Kammerer's performance as Paul is all in the eyes, going from wide-eyed enthusiasm to wide-eyed terror as tanks roll over his head in the trenches. When the focus shifts to the other soldiers in the trenches, the exhaustion feels so lived and so real. Whether it's their discoloured teeth or the lines of worry on otherwise youthful faces, you see the real humanity of what war costs. Compared with other adaptations, however, 'All Quiet on the Western Front' delves into the German-French negotiations, and later, how a rogue German officer orders a foolhardy assault in the waning days of the war. Where the first adaptation took on the misinformation being ladled out to the German public, and the second zeroed in on the youth and inexperience of the soldiers as a parallel to the Vietnam War, this adaptation seeks a different path.

What this version of 'All Quiet on the Western Front' seeks to unearth is how far away the reality and concept of war is from those who start it. Daniel Bruhl plays Matthias Erzberger, one of the signatories of the 1918 armistice that led to the Treaty of Versailles. The action - such as it is - pauses to show how Erzberger had to force the German High Command to the table, and how intransigent both sides were at the table. None of them, it seemed, were overly keen to end the war as it was - even though upwards of 40,000 soldiers were dying on a regular basis. This madness becomes compounded when a German general, played with gusto by Devid Striesow, decides to push for one final advance - even though the war will end within hours and the advance will do nothing to change the outcome. It is simply, as he puts it, to send the soldiers back as heroes, not defeated cowards.

The timeliness of 'All Quiet on the Western Front' can't be denied. It is a call to understand in war, there are no innocent parties. There are no honourable victories, or noble defeats. Those who start them never end up fighting them, and those who fight them rarely end up surviving them. 'All Quiet on the Western Front' is a sprawling epic, but a calm and measured plea for sanity in a world that is slowly losing itself to something awful.