The best anti-war statement one can make is depicting the war as it is. As closely, as detailed as possible. That is what Erich Maria Remarque, a German war veteran of World War I, did with his landmark novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” in 1929. Almost a century has passed, there has been another monstrous World War, and a European war is raging on while I am typing this. This latest adaptation of Remarque’s novel by Edward Berger, currently streaming on Netflix, paints a beautiful but grim reminder. A glorious visual experience, underlining Remarque’s novel’s gut-wrenching exclamation about the most important facet of war. Futility.

When Paul Baumer (Felix Kammerer) forged his father’s signature in 1916, to enlist himself in the military, the only concern for him was not to be left behind while his friends embarked on this great adventure. For young Paul and his friends, war was nothing but a great adventure. They were ignorant to the real face of war underneath the veneer of swashbuckling patriotism and masochistic glory. The façade was almost immediately ripped apart, the moment they set foot on the battlefield. As mud and blood started to soak their supposed new uniform, the novelty of the situation began to wear off. And fear started to seep in.

The first enemy attack took one of the friends. But, Paul could not even take a moment to mourn, the relentless fighting in a battle does not generally allow that. Paul and his friends understood that now. We then jump a couple of years ahead, Paul is now battle-hardened, and his friends circle increased too with two older, more experienced soldiers becoming his friends. Each soldier was fighting a combat within themselves. In massive contrast, back in the comfort of the brick bureaucracy halls, those soldiers battling and surviving in the front were increasingly becoming just a number. It is one diplomat, Matthias Erzberger (played by Daniel Bruhl), who tried to change the perspective.

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Foregoing pride to save one life, let alone thousands, should not be that difficult a choice. However, it was for most of the Generals of Germany. With every hour Matthias took to convince the Generals, more soldiers perished at the Front. The aching unfairness of that dichotomy was beautifully portrayed here in “All Quiet on the Western Front.” For that, Berger seamlessly juxtaposed the two environments; the bloody, gunpowder-addled gruesome environment of the soldiers, and the cozy, fastidious, perfectly shaped interior-filled environment of the decision-makers.

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) Movie Review

As the story forwards, predictably Paul gradually became more and more alone and desolate. “All Quiet on the Western Front” shows the horrors of war are never-ending, and one can never be used to it. Hatred springs up in the unlikeliest of places, and in unfamiliar forms. Even when the forced peace seemed to be on the horizon, all it takes is a whim and masculine insecurity of one man to propel thousands more to death.

The opening scene of the film would remind one of another anti-war masterpiece. Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory.” Like most anti-war films, Berger succinctly puts a visible lack of line that differentiates between good and evil. The screenplay written by Berger himself along with Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell, reminds the obvious fact many often forget. War is fought between people who are primarily following orders. There is no extra brutality, no elaborate evil conspiracy here; it is as simple as that.

Felix Kammerer churns a beautiful performance. By the time Paul finished his journey, the horrific blankness on his face would remind one of Aleksey Kravchenko’s famous turn in ‘Come and See’ (1985). The entire ensemble cast gets under the skin of their characters. Albrecht Schuch who portrayed the older soldier ‘Kat’ leaves a lasting impression. So does the innovatively modern background score.

The cinematography (James Friend) and the editing (Sven Budelmann) have to be lauded here. There are some beautiful transitions that perfectly underline the emotion in the scene. For example, the blaze of flames coming from a flamethrower in the battleground, where the soldiers are, is swiftly replaced in the next shot by a gush of steam coming from the quaint train, where the decision-makers are pondering over the terms of the armistice. Berger, with Friend, often interspersed a battleground shot depicting brutality with a beautiful natural landscape of trees, streams, and sky. Mother Nature, aloof and perhaps shaking her head at the meaningless violence of humankind, who are hell-bent on calling the great end quicker than she intended.

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All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) Trailer

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) Movie Links – IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) Movie Cast – Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Daniel Brühl
Where to watch All Quiet on the Western Front

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