All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★★★

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The story follows teenagers Paul Bäumer and his friends Albert and Müller, who voluntarily enlist in the German army, riding a wave of patriotic fervor that quickly dissipates once they face the brutal realities of life on the front. Paul's preconceptions about the enemy and the rights and wrongs of the conflict soon crumble.

There are a few genres that occasionally hit me harder than others. I can normally find a soft-spot for a well-made feel-good sports movie, an investigative thriller, or a war picture. The best films focused on war are those that do not embrace it but speak out against it by showing how brutal it can be, while respecting those who fight in it of course. All Quiet on the Western Front is based off of a book, and there have been a few movie incarnations in the past (none of which I have seen). While the source material is dated, the ideas at play are not, and the message of what this is trying to do is one that you can gather from the opening scene alone. Seeing these young boys so excited to join in on the fight, while their government makes them believe that they have a chance, is as sad as it gets. The manipulation is real and evident here. Paul getting his uniform, that has clearly been patched up from its previous owner, sets the stage for the type of film this is going to be. We are immediately thrown into trench warfare, and the action is brutal beyond belief. The movie does not refrain from showing the grotesque nature of the type of war these men were fighting.

No one is safe, and everyone fighting (rightfully) feels as if they have no chance of making it out alive. They are in a terrifying place, and the fear they are feeling is evident and tragic. An argument could be made that Paul isn’t the most interesting character, but I like the idea of following around someone who reacts to these events in a subtle way. His pain becomes more evident as we go, and each increasingly violent battle continues to take any wind remaining out of his sails. The 180° turn that we see him take from beginning to end is heartbreaking. Some will say that this film features a familiar message with a repetitive idea at play, but this is a message that will never wear out its welcome. War is tragic, sad, brutal, and relentless. To tell a story like this in such a beautiful way is icing on the cake. On one side, you have the generals and higher-ups that sit in their nice rooms and talk about changing everything. Certain characters have empathy. Daniel Brühl plays someone who just wants this bloodshed to stop. Others will disregard orders and keep the bloodshed going until they cannot any longer.

On the other side, you have a group of guys who do what they are told. As terrified as some of them are, willing to do whatever it takes to escape this hell, the battle rages on regardless. The story may feel like it jumps around once or twice, but it never truly impacts the pacing. What puts the film on that next level is the attention to detail. The landscapes, cinematography, shot-selection, color-grading, and editing are all top-notch. It may be the most visually stunning movie of the year. Certain shots are unforgettable, and the action is filmed in a way that allows you to feel every shot fired. There is a scene involving tanks that will go down as one of the best war scenes ever. Turning something that simple into a scene from a horror movie is impressive. The score felt overbearing in the beginning, but it slowly started to feel necessary. It fit in perfectly after awhile. There is so much here that deserves to be praised. Not many films stick with me as long as this one has, and I struggle to find one that means more this year. This is the definition of a theatrical experience, even with the Netflix release. It is worth seeking out on the big screen. Edward Berger crushes it, and his ability to help translate this story is impressive and important.

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