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ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (2022)  l  Netflix  |  October 28, 2022

Starring:  Daniel Brühl, Albrecht Schuch, Sebastian Hülk, Felix Kammerer, Aaron Hilmer

Director: Edward Berger

'All Quiet on the Western Front' tells the gripping story of a young German soldier on the Western Front of World War I. Paul and his comrades experience first-hand how the initial euphoria of war turns into desperation and fear as they fight for their lives, and each other, in the trenches.

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TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus

All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the most harrowing war films in recent memory, conjuring up a technical and visual marvel exploring the horrors of the First World War in this adaptation of the classic novel. 

 

Audiences have been treated to some excellent films on the First and Second World War with such titles like Dunkirk, 1917, and Hacksaw Ridge. But these films all have one thing in common: they have been from the perspective of the victors, telling incredible stories that lend themselves to a spectacle. However, the film offers a very different but equally important perspective on the war. Based on the classic novel, the film details the experiences of the German forces in the final days of the First World War. 

 

We get insight into the differing political views of the war within Germany as there is a regime change in the government, as well as the horrors faced by individual soldiers in the trenches on the front line. Through the film’s main character Paul, a young man who enlists in the German army, we experience the emotional and psychological toll of the First World War on soldiers in a losing battle where they are treated as numbers rather than human beings, as Paul attempts to stay alive. This is portrayed through the contrast optimistic and nationalistic spirit that encouraged Paul and his friends to sign up which is quickly shattered by the dark and inhumane occurrences of the actual war. It’s a bleak film to say the least, but a story that needs to be told to remind audiences of truly how horrible war is, especially given the conflict going on in the world today. It’s very much a cursory overview of the different attitudes towards the war, and while the true historical implications of everything may not be apparent to all viewers, the main messages of the story ring loud and clear. 

 

Helping to convey the messages is the set design and visual effects of the film. The trenches of the front line are recreated in great detail, capturing the terrible conditions of them and the horrors that the soldiers on both sides faced in them. They are blown up and destroyed in front of your eyes, sending debris, blood and body parts flying in brutal clarity. I would never say that this film is gory like some horror movie can be, as the creative time try to capture the death and carnage of battle in realistic detail, but it is nonetheless gruesome as you see young men die or be so injured that their lives will never be the same again. There is one sequence in the middle of the film showcasing trench warfare that is easily one of the best battle sequences in a war film since the opening D-Day landing sequence in Saving Private Ryan. 

 

Capturing this is some truly stunning cinematography capturing the chaos across the trenches and No Man’s Land, using colour, light, darkness, and smoke to create an eerie atmosphere for the majority of the film. It results in an uneasy feeling as the audience watches Paul navigate the war, always on edge whether Paul will survive to the end of the film or not given the amount of death and destruction that the audience sees unfold during the film. 

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Though it is Edward Berger’s direction that makes the film soar. It’s technically outstanding, allowing the film to become a gripping and emotionally taxing experience from start to finish. It’s no surprise that this film is Germany’s selection for its entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, because Berger’s direction helps make All Quiet on the Western Front one of the most exceptional war films of the past decade. 

 

This does not mean that the film is not without its flaws, as there was one element that drove me crazy at times: the musical score. At times, it’s a grand musical score that captures the scale of the film. But at other times, the loud booming sounds that compromise the score made me feel like I was watching a science fiction film like Blade Runner 2049, which is not the feel that you want in a World War I epic. It was a confusing musical choice, most obviously made to create an impending sense of horror, but unfortunately did not have the desired effect. 


The performances are fine, there is no weak link to the cast, but the screenplay creates more of a visceral experience rather than an acting showcase. As a result, you will long remember the messaging and the visuals of the film, rather than the characters and performances who are merely a conduit for the main themes of the film. From the second the film starts, Edward Berger’s direction grips the audience as he takes you on this intense ride of stunning visuals and harrowing depictions of the First World War, bringing All Quiet on the Western Front to life once again that more than enough justifies remaking the film for modern audiences.

RATING: 4 out of 5