Starring: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Daniel Brühl, Aaron Hilmer, Moritz Klaus, Adrian Grüenwald, Edin Hasanovic, Thibault de Montalembert, Devid Striesow, Andreas Döhler, Sebastian Hülk
Review: War breaks out in Germany in 1914. Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) and his classmates quickly enlist in the army to serve their fatherland. No sooner are they drafted than the first images from the battlefield show them the reality of war.
All Quiet on the Western Front, nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture in 2022, is based on the 1929 novel of the same name written by Erich Maria Remarque. Other film adaptations of Remarque's novel debuted in 1930 and 1979; both to a resounding success. The 2022 version is no different. This film and those versions that came before it, are a true testament to the timelessness of their source material. This has everything one would expect from a war movie, but it's delivered in a way that depicts the naiveté of blind nationalism, as a bunch of dewy-eyed teenagers enlist to fight for the Fatherland. The harsh reality here is that while this film is told from a German point of view, these kids at the center of the film know nothing of what they're getting themselves into. They behave like any teenage boy would no matter the nationality, and in many respects are not too different from those they've been tasked with fighting against. In that same vein, their drive to don the German uniform, and potentially be adorned with adoration as national heroes has them willing to do whatever they're told to advance their country's cause.
The film centers around Paul Bäumer, who has all the attributes listed above. Bäumer is played wonderfully by Felix Kammerer, who is making his on-screen debut. Kammerer does a great job conveying his character's blind nationalism while also evoking a sense of empathy from the audience. This poor kid really has no idea about the brutality of war, the experiences that await him, and how those experiences will mold him into a version of himself that he didn't expect. Delusions of grandeur are quickly shattered by the harsh, chaotic nature of combat on the Western Front. Blind nationalism can be a perilous venture, and in WWI, it's almost impossible to not come away with physical and psychological scars.
This film is shot beautifully by Edward Berger, set against the mountainous backdrop and heavily forested landscape of the Western Front. It's equally beautiful and ominous, and is the perfect setting for the carnage that awaits. Scenes of war, soldiers caked in mud, and scattered corpses are interrupted by scenes of levity. Paul and his friends obtaining a goose from a nearby farm to enjoy a good meal together, his friend Franz's (Moritz Klaus) tryst with a local French girl, and a budding mentorship between war veteran Kat (Albrecht Schuch) and Paul all deliver elements that humanize the men at the center of this sordid story -- albeit just briefly.
As the film culminates with an agreed upon ceasefire between the Germans and the French, blind nationalism rears its ugly head once again, proving once and for all the war is good for absolutely nothing. All Quiet on the Western Front is a calamitous tragedy that will rip out your soul and break your heart. It's harshness mirrored by the reality of the times that it depicts delivers a sense of authenticity and a lasting resonance.
As far as war movie goes, you'll be hard-pressed to find one better, but the reimagining of Remarque's novel pulls no punches. This film is not an easy watch, but one that is absolutely worth your time.