War is awful. Most everyone believes that, but those without firsthand experience cannot truly grasp the horrors of war. “All Quiet on the Western Front” does a stellar job of imparting the devastation of war onto its viewers. Before I dig deeper into my review of the movie, however, I’d like to give two quick disclaimers. First, I have never read the book “All Quiet on the Western Front,” nor have I watched the previous 1930 and 1979 film adaptations. Second, beware because spoilers lie ahead.
The film centers around Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer), a 17-year-old fresh out of school who decides to enlist into World War I with his group of friends. On the Western Front, the boys also become close with Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch) and Tjaden Stackfleet (Edin Hasanovic). The movie spends most of its time with Baumer, but it also gives some attention to other storylines as well — mainly the efforts of Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Bruhl) to end the war and General Friedrichs (Devid Striesow) to keep the war going.
The movie is visually stunning with every shot included by director Edward Berger leaving a strong impact. One thing that immediately sticks out is his choice to include brief shots of nature in between some of the most gruesome scenes. I found that these quick views of nature made the previous bloody scenes stay with me more than if the movie had just transitioned straight into the next piece of plot. The nature shots gave me a second to reflect on what I had just seen and how awful it must have been for World War I soldiers. Another great choice by Berger was to transition from the mud and cold of the trenches to the fanciful finery of the government and military officials. The quick cuts built my anger at just how out of touch those in power were about the conditions their soldiers were in.
The acting in this movie was also top tier, particularly the acting of Kammerer. There was a scene where Baumer — trapped in a pit with an opposing soldier — stabs the man to death only to have to listen as the other man slowly dies. Kammerer’s portrayal of the various emotions Baumer felt while the other man died was heart wrenching. But every actor beautifully played their part in the movie as well. I had no choice but to be sucked in to feel for (and in the case of Erzberger, against) all these characters.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” shone particularly in the little moments and details included. For example, the movie starts by portraying the death of a soldier named Heinrich. When Baumer receives his military uniform with Heinrich’s name on it, he thinks that the uniform simply belongs to someone else — not that the someone it belonged to was dead. This little moment was an amazing method of portraying Baumer’s — innocence that he is quickly going to lose on the battlefield. Other little details like the bullet hole that stays in Baumer’s helmet throughout the movie and the shot at the end of the film of a poster that Baumer’s dead friend put up, built up layers of emotional depth in the film.
While there are aspects of the film that could use a little improvement (besides Kat, all Baumer’s friends lack meaningful characterization), the film overall is superb. Every second of the film I spent on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next, and I felt deeply for all the hardships that Baumer and his friends went through during their time on the Western Front. If you want a movie that pulls you in and does not let go, look no farther than “All Quiet on the Western Front.”