‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ Review: Dutifully Competent and Dull

It’s a fact of modern war movies – or, at least, good ones – that they’re simultaneously terrifying and exciting. You could say it’s a contradiction that stems from the dynamic, larger-than-life nature of the film medium. Or you could say that it’s a truth that explains something fundamental about war: the reason that war continues, for all its terror and destruction and death, is that there is something in human nature that makes war. is drawn to. Movies, in their way, do this for us. Once again, though, I’m talking about the good. There is no more powerful example than “Saving Private Ryan.” I’ve never seen a war movie more thrilling, and I’ve never seen a war movie that made me confront, more memorably, the unspeakable bloody horror and devastation of war.

In contrast, the new German version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” feels like an experience that has been cut to the bone – morally, spiritually and dramatically. Based on the 1928 novel by Erich Maria Remarque, it’s not a film that tries to turn the infamous meat-grinder horror of World War I trench warfare into some kind of “spectacle,” the way Sam Mendes’ video— Game apocalypse. “1917” did. The film’s hero, Paul Baumer (Felix Kemmerer), is a student who joins the Imperial German Army during the Three Years’ War to fight for the homeland. He is soon sent to the Western Front, a place where millions of soldiers have already gone to their deaths, which is basically a bloody war where no pieces change hands.

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During the war, “occupied” land on the Western Front was scarce. The location of the front line never extended more than half a mile. So why did all those soldiers die? for no reason. Due to a tragic – one might say obscene – historical accident: that in WWI, the means of combat were scattered between an old, “classical” mode of stationary warfare and the new reality of long-distance slaughter made possible by technology. . By the end of the war, 17 million men had fallen between these pieces.

The 1930 Hollywood version of All Quiet on the Western Front, directed by Lewis Milestone, is widely regarded as an anti-war icon. But, of course, if you watch it now, the battle scenes won’t move the audience the way they did a century ago. The burden of terrorism and carnage on the screen has gone way beyond that. Edward Berger, the director of the new “All Quiet,” stages his battle scenes in what has become the standard existential bombshell—exploding in the ground, debris flying everywhere, war-is-hell-because-of-it. – Violence – is. – A random method of merciless destruction. He does it, but no better; He does not begin to touch the level of imagination that has gripped us in the war cinema of Spielberg, Kubrick, Coppola, Stone, Klimov. Coming out of the trenches, Paul and his fellow soldiers face the brutality of bullets, they are buried face down in the mud, they are shot in the knee or in the head, they are attacked with bayonets and machetes. goes .

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Yet the pale, soft-hearted Paul, whose newly issued uniform comes out of the corpse of a fallen soldier (a point meant to illustrate the endless cycle of death in WWI), somehow fights on and survives. He strikes us as a gentle young man, but inside he is a ruthless killer. For shooting one soldier, then stabbing another, he actually becomes a dangerous action hero, and I only kept it because I didn’t find his intelligence on the battlefield particularly convincing. . Berger, as a filmmaker, wants to bring us “closer” to war, but the horror in “All Quiet on the Western Front” is in-your-face and candid in its presentation. Maybe that’s why it feels so numb.

Great war movies are not careful about adding personal drama to the war. They highlight the characters and describe their violence as theatrical. But the new “All Quiet on the Western Front” is two-and-a-half hours of dramatic minimalism, as if that could be a measure of the film’s integrity. The soldiers, including the Poles, are sketchy, and you are clearly relieved when the film cuts to the traditional scenes of the German Vice Chancellor, Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brohl), trying to make peace with the French generals. tries to The German army was defeated. Conversations are one-sided; The French, who hold all the cards, want to surrender on their terms. But we register, behind Erzberger, the indescribable never-dying resentment of the German officers, which will surely carry over into the next war.

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Stanley Kubrick, with Paths of Glory, is still the greatest film about trench warfare, and he wasn’t shy about involving us in the real drama. As “All Quiet on the Western Front” sticks, even once the armistice has been struck down, there is yet another war episode, marked with tragic irony, to show that World War I The body count kept increasing for no apparent reason. Any sane person would agree with that. Yet “All Quiet on the Western Front” is as much a war film as the thesis states. It keeps making its point, leaving you less than empty.


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