All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★★

A truly harrowing that shocks most when it's not trying so hard to disturb its audience.

From the opening scene we see the churning of the war machine by tracing the path of a fallen soldiers via their uniform through to its new owner. This gets additionally bookend by our no longer new recruit taking on a custodial role of a junior soldier who closely resembles a fallen school friend. Its an exceptional way of showing the scale and unrelenting conveyor belt of war that horrifies as much as any battle set piece.

There is also some fundementally brilliant visual story telling throughout which is able to masterfully pin point minute moments in which seismic changes in the lives of these young men where they are often wholly unaware. Starting with that uniform scene we see the wide eyed recruit trying to return his uniform thinking he's been given someone else's because the grim reality is such a remote unknown to him.

The battle scenes have all the mud, blood and guts that are very much par for course for the war genre and at its best it is able to conjure an immersive experience capturing the oppressive horrors and chaos. However there are a few sequences particularly at the midpoint that are overstylised in a way that evoked a Call of Duty game. Meanwhile gore can also be overplayed to a point of repulsion without managing to engage on an emotional level as the film does elsewhere.

The story runs two parallel arcs of those in the mudclad trenches fighting, or more accurately dieing and contrasts this with the high command situated in luxary making ego driven decisions about the fate of those in the fields. It is an effective devise that makes a broad point well but lacks a certain amount of grace or nuance.

For all the grand production where the film works best are in the small interactions of the teenagers and young men experiencing this arrested development, bonding. They accept living in the moment as it places them and even relish with their friends and knowing the future can only take them away by death or returning home to a world they no longer understand. There are moments of great joy underpinned by a vast melancholy that crushed me more effectively than a tank.

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