Director: Edward Berger
Starring: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Daniel Brühl
Run Time: 147 mins
All Quiet On The Western Front is a German-language adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 anti-war novel. Developed by Netflix and directed by Edward Berger, the film is set in the closing days of World War I. It primarily follows an impressionable young soldier called Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) who enlist in the Germany army alongside some of his school friends. At first, they have a romantic view of the war but this is very quickly shattered when they spend their first night in a trench on the Western Front. Berger intercuts Paul’s story with scenes of the armistice negotiations, led by Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl).
All Quiet On The Western Front is an interesting albeit flawed take on the opposition’s account of the First World War. Berger does an excellent job of conveying the loss of innocence of many naive and young German soldiers, and compares them with imagery of young animals. Technically and visually, the film is reasonably adept, although it’s nothing you’ve never seen before in a war film. Surprisingly, the sound is oddly unconvincing at times, for example when two characters converse over soup. James Friend’s cinematography is impressive at times, a long take of a truck at risk of crushing enemy soldiers is particularly harrowing, shot from underneath in a claustrophobic manner. Volker Bertelman’s memorable and affecting synth-based score is another bright spot, performing a lot of the heavy lifting.
Felix Kammerer gives a committed performance as the young Paul, who slowly transforms into a shell of his former self, but it’s Daniel Brühl who steals the show as the no-nonsense negotiator. The scenes between Brühl and the aggressive French General Ferdinand Foch are particularly tense (Thibault de Montalembert) and give the film a needed kick of energy.
Berger’s direction is rather heavy-handed though and he doesn’t particularly stray away from convention. The film’s also not quite as absorbing as it should be and with a 147 minute length, like the war it documents, its pacing has the tendency to trudge. At least, Berger nails the ending when it comes, which is dark and suitably harrowing.
All Quiet On The Western Front has an admirable concept – there aren’t a vast selection of First World War films authentically told from the German perspective. When it works, it soars but it’s a shame the execution is generally rather workmanlike as it could have been so much more.