The film opens on a shot of no man’s land, filled with the many bodies of the dead, countless craters and the remnants of shattered defenses hit by artillery. A soldier climbs over the edge of his trench, going “over the top” as part of an assault on the enemy trenches. He fights his way forward as his friends fall around him, eventually getting so close to the enemy that he engages in hand to hand combat , at which point the screen fades to black. It reopens with a shot of a pile of bodies — the soldier’s corpse among them — which have their overclothes stripped before being buried, with the clothes being shipped back home to be cleaned of blood, fixed, and given to a new set of recruits, fresh out of school and ready to serve their country.
This marks the dismal beginning of “All Quiet On The Western Front,” and it doesn’t let up much from there. A German-language adaption of the 1928 German novel of the same name (which already had adaptations in 1930 and in 1979, the first of which won an Academy Award), the Netflix film follows Paul Baumer (Daniel Bruhl) and his school friends as they enlist in World War I. After hearing a patriotic speech about the glory of war, the young men are given the aforementioned uniforms of killed soldiers and are shipped straight to the Western Front. On their first night, they witness a horrific artillery bombardment that kills many members of their unit, starting their descent into total disillusionment with the war.
The movie’s primary theme highlights the reality of war as being horrifying and barbaric, which it accomplishes through its faithful adaptation of the original novel, aside from the addition of a side plot that details the armistice process and a change to the ending’s setting. The movie is visually appealing, despite the hideous images of war, with a large number of wide shots and quite a few tracking shots that establish a strong juxtaposition.
The director strengthens the message of the horrors of war by showing the raw violence of war instead of relegating it to off screen. The viewer sees many dead bodies — often disturbingly disfigured by whatever killed them — and grotesque injuries.The truth of the barbarism of war is contrasted with the glorious depiction given to Paul and his friends in the speech they hear, further cementing that war is not glorious and is instead horrifying.
The film’s score accentuates the movie rather than distracting from it, the actors all put in moving performances that fully capture the depth of the character’s emotions, and the costuming and set pieces are authentic to the time. My main criticism is that the film is just another adaptation of the same story from the early 20th century. Even with the more modern cinematography, the score, and some minor plot tweaks, “All is Quiet on the Western Front” (2022) does not add much of significant value, essentially repeating the works that came before it.
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