All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★★

A spectacular entry into the war genre, immersive and bone-rattling but more importantly, deeply human. All Quiet on the Western Front is a remarkable technical achievement, evoking 1917 in its cinematographic prowess and the vast staging of its combat sequences, but unlike that film’s sanitized arthouse feel, this is a grim and unrelenting affair, more akin to Saving Private Ryan in its visceral depictions of violence. It’s a powerful and overwhelming experience. The film does lose itself a bit along the way, though, and there are many moments of downtime where I found myself wishing for a bit more introspection. Though this is intended as a character piece, we’re rushed from the naivety of youth straight into the disillusionment far too quickly, in just a handful of minutes. I’m not familiar with either the classic novel or the 1930 film, but I felt I didn’t get to understand the camaraderie of these friends quite as much as I would have liked. This was almost enough to drag the story down a bit for me - yet, in its very last stretches the film suddenly switches gears, sharpening its focus for a third act so maddening and profoundly distressing that I was left stunned. It’s a cruel ending, but a necessary coda to this story that completes its underlying message. War is hell, after all, but it’s the arrogant men greedily pulling the strings of a doomed generation that are the real devils at play. What a tragedy. What a waste. No one really survives this.

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