All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front ★★★

I admire how incredibly strong some of the technical aspects of this film are, and they are undoubtedly one of two reasons why the film ended up taking in so many BAFTAs—it is incredibly rare for European films to compete with American (& British) juggernauts in those respects, and at a fifth of 1917's budget, this film's achievements in terms of production design and make-up are miraculous. However, the rest is a bit of a mixed bag. The narrative changes made to the original story are convincing in terms of shifting the focus towards a more contemporary 'trickle-down evil' angle, but I do believe that the film ends up missing part of what makes the book so everlasting. It takes a very literal approach to not being able to leave the war behind and I think the overall point is good, but lesser than that of what is being adapted. The first hour is devastating, but some of the narrative spice-ups after that lessen the intensity of the main through-line, and overall, the screenplay becomes a bit of a structural conundrum in the third act.

It's also not a total winner in the below-the-line categories in my opinion, though BAFTA obviously disagreed. The cinematography is gorgeous, but I actually think it is quite often too polished; to display war with such extravagance (and not just intensity) in a film that is so vehemently trying to construct an anti-war narrative is counter-productive. Don't get me wrong, it looks gorgeous. The problem is that it really shouldn't. I also thought that while the music was admirably audacious in a few ways (the cymbals, some funky strings, and a specific synth motifs), it did not fit the narrative at all. It kept distracting me, which is rare, as I consider myself to generally be very appreciative of more experimental score choices.

I do think that it is overall a good film—it is gruelling to sit through for much of its runtime, in a 'good' sense—and one that looks about ten times more expensive than it apparently was. It does however have some classic underdog problems in the sense that certain elements of it are much more well-developed than other elements, and even within specific categories, the film shows some large discrepancies across its runtime. It definitely drives the point home, though: it is impossible to watch All Quiet without thinking of what our brethren are going through right now on the eastern front. It makes it an even more difficult watch, and (sadly) one with a greater sense of urgency than the creators could have imagined three years ago.

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