I was pleasantly surprised by All Quiet on the Western Front. Not that I thought it would be bad or anything, just that war movies, with the exception of Saving Private Ryan (cliché as it is to say that), aren’t usually my thing. This is the third adaptation of the book of the same name, following a German patriot who joins the army to fight during the first world war for honour and glory. Unfortunately, he gets the sudden realisation that war sucks and the Western Front never really moves more than a few miles in either direction, as though it’s locked in time, which more or less puts out any dreams the lad might of had of storming Paris.
The thing is this film is very good and there isn’t really much to pick apart to critique. All the performances are good. The dialogue lands well. It’s shot great. The quiet time aptly compliments the battles and vice versa. There’s some real tear-jerker moments in there, though I’ve never been one to cry at films. And seeing this seventeen year-old boy become like a terminator, acting robotically and almost out of sheer programming in every battle, despite his inner feelings hating that he is capable of doing these violent things to other people, is sad and reminds you that the action is more than just noise. You don’t just respect the action because it’s based on a war that actually happened, but because the film makes you realise pretty much no one on the front lines wanted to wake up and shoot someone else, and yet all of those people did… If they weren’t shot first. It is tragic.
All of that to say the film is pretty damn good and the only thing I can think of that might detract from it is to reiterate this is a remake. The second remake of a film from the 30’s and the third cinematic iteration of this story that started in a book. And true, and striking, as it’s themes and messages are, not only have all these themes and messages been seen in it’s predecessors… But also in every world war one or two movie ever. And even in modern war movies set in the middle east. So while not technically bad in anyway at all, and with a message that will always be sound, one has to wonder is this all war movies can be? Just reminders that these things happened and that they were bad? Again, not that we shouldn’t be reminded – I truly believe we surely should, as I hear kids today not really understanding how much of the history they live through today dates back to the wars fought in these films – but to ask if more can be done with this type of film, or if this is their sole purpose?
But in isolation and utter fairness, is All Quiet on the Western Front worth watching? If you like war movies, you’re missing out by not watching it. Sadly, war movies now seem to be a genre that is stale for very saddening reasons – because the reason it is stale is a reason we should want to engage with – to respect and remember the past – not get away from. But I suppose if you shout anything at anyone for long enough, no matter how kind or reasonable, they’ll eventually tell you to be quiet. So yes, a stranger review than usual, but one that I hope has sparked some thought about this type of film.
I’m really looking forward to seeing this. I agree though with what you say about war movie. I think every now and then a filmmaker has to come along and reinvigorate the genre with some new thinking. Especially with WW1 there are certain facts about the Western Front in particular that make this hard to do. You have to stick with the trenches, etc. I didn’t care much for 1917 in this regard as it just seemed to overwhelm us with the stunning photography.
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I hope you enjoy it. I definitely think the film gets better as it goes on. I’m always hesitant about rewatching war films now – 1917 I thought was brilliant on my first watch, but I liked it a tad less and less the next two times I saw it. As you say, brilliant as the camera work and visuals are I think they were also a crutch for that film.