All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★★

Thoughts upon seeing the 2022 version of All Quiet on the Western Front:


I went to see this instead of watching the Seattle Mariners suffer the indignity of having to play the Houston Unrepentant Cheaters, who flush any integrity out of the game, and I'm so glad I did. It put everything in proper perspective. And besides, the Astros don't deserve my attention. I give my attention to legitimate baseball teams.

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What a relief it was to watch an epic war film that does not serve up some egotistical director's "vision" that is ultimately about proving something or one-upping somebody else. War movies should never serve to advance a director's ego. I should never watch a war movie and find myself impressed by the person choreographing the simulated carnage. I should never come away talking about the director. Instead, I should have my disbelief suspended to allow for occasions of empathy, understanding, and grief.

This film is, by my lights, a far more powerful and successful war movie than Nolan's Dunkirk or Mendes's 1917 or even Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan because I'm not compelled to mention the director, or any particular show-offy shot, or any innovation on war-movie formulas and cliches. What's more, it never betrays the reality of war by zooming in on any sentimental fantasy of a hero or an honorable mission or anything like that. War is hell — the senseless sacrifice of human lives to serve the egos and greed and tempers of clowns and fools and madmen. And this movie tells the truth of it. Whenever you find yourself lunging for what looks like a twist that might develop into a quest or an epiphany or a wrong made right, it gets drowned out by another wave of absurd violence until you are left empty and traumatized and resolved to never rationalize the act of picking up a rifle and marching against an enemy. It has the Kafka-esque vibe of Son of Saul — which feels perfectly appropriate.

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That Leonardo Dicaprio Pointing meme has ruined so many moments in so many movies for me — and this is no exception. The moment when a guy says, "It's so quiet...."

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On so many occasions in this film, I thought, "Well, this reminds me of a moment from [Insert Other War Film Title Here]. And then I'd catch myself and realize that those films probably took a lot of ideas from the original All Quiet film — or novel. And that includes the AT-AT attack on Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back.

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Is this the first war film I've genuinely admired since The Thin Red Line? I'll have to check. Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old is a documentary. So, when it comes to dramas, I guess this is my favorite war film of the 21st century.

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