All Quiet on the Western Front review – a gut-wrenching and haunting masterwork

By Marc Miller
Published: October 28, 2022 (Last updated: 4 weeks ago)


One of the most gut-wrenching, brutal, and uncompromising anti-war films ever made. All Quiet on the Western Front is a haunting achievement.

Netflix brings a seismic film in All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) – this is our spoiler-free review.

There are few cinematic experiences this or any year like Edward Berger‘s adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The director captures the source’s material’s visionary concept of the anti-war story. The first anti-war novel abandoned popular themes of nobility, patriotism, and the romanticizing of fighting for something as inconsequential as a few meters of land. Berger brilliantly helps bring to life the curtain that Remarque pulled back. This adaptation is a gut-wrenching, uncompromising, and brutal masterpiece.

The film takes place during wartime in Germany in 1916, and youthful excitement is in the air. Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) is too young to sign up for the war. However, his friends encourage him to forge the signature to enlist with them. Bäumer is in for a rude awakening by being thrown into the middle of a nightmarish scene. There to see them through the war are Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (Albrecht Abraham Schuch) and Tjaden Stackfleet (Edin Hasanovic). They are battle-worn veterans, but not because they are lifers. It’s because they simply are surviving against the odds. Both know the odds of all of them making it through to the end is ominous at best.

Then you have Germany’s Minister of Finance, Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl), outspokenly against the first world war. He is diligently and desperately working behind the scenes to reach an agreed armistice with the allied powers. However, the truth cannot come fast enough. In his way is a bullheaded and overtly prideful General (Devid Striesow). This guy is just itching to send every last one of his “men” to a glorious death.

Berger wrote the script along with Lesley Paterson (Something Blue) and Ian Stokell (The Negotiation). They not only actually capture the horrors of war but the utter hubris of it all. The propaganda, treating their citizens like cattle, recycling the fallen’s bloody clothes, and the youthful exuberance that acutely washes away while exposing a sobering reality. The story has three battles over a small piece of land in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, each one is as pointless as the next.

The filmmaking is spectacular here, with stunning images that will stick in your memory long after it is over. It is the way Berger and company brush away those small victories, like the scenes of tanks savagely mowing down the enemy and spraying machine gun bullets inside a trench, or members of the opposition exterminating soldiers with flamethrowers. Most of the victims could be considered just boys. This all works by highlighting the story’s unforgiving nature and their lives that ultimately ended up being almost pointless. I must mention none of this is sensationalized or gratuitous but bluntly honest, which makes this story all the more powerful.

Along with Volker Bertelmann’s beautiful yet ominous score and James Friends’ stunning cinematography, All Quiet on the Western Front is a haunting achievement that holds your attention with its extraordinary and horrifying power. Berger’s film also may be the greatest anti-war film ever made.

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