Movie Review: All Quiet on the Western Front

Back when it came out, I heard a fair bit of positive buzz around the new German adaptation of All Quiet on the Western Front, playing on Netflix. Then the Oscar nominations came out, and it garnered 9 of them, which isn’t normal for an international film. It went on to win 4: best cinematography, production design, music, and foreign feature. So it’s been on my “to watch” list for a while. After the excellent Churchill-focused WWII Darkest Hour (very good, and highly recommended, if you haven’t seen it), Denisa and I felt like going for another historic movie.

Why not All Quiet?

Two and a half hours later, and I have very mixed feelings about the movie. It’s absolutely brutal. Think of what Saving Private Ryan did for D-Day, and now do the same thing for trench warfare. I’ve seen a number of WWI movies (1918 comes first to mind), but this takes those and makes them feel like they were watered down for kids. There’s machine guns, tanks, bayonets, gas, flame throwers, shovels, mortars, daggers, and more. All of them very gruesome. It was not a pleasant experience by any use of the word, even if it was very well filmed and presented.

My biggest complaint about the movie was just how heavy handed it was. “WAR IS BAD!” It says that over, and over, and over, and just when you think it can’t possibly think of another way to say it, it comes up with one. Its characters stop really being people and become more archetypes than anything else. The evil general. The plucky commander. They make decisions that strain credulity, and of course the worst thing always happens as a consequence of each decision.

So where does that leave the movie? If a piano is extremely well-made and perfectly tuned, but it only has one octave, then it’s not a very good piano, is it? This film felt like that to me. If you’re a WWI buff and interested in seeing what trench warfare was really like, then by all means have at it. But if you’re not in that small section of people? I don’t think I can really endorse the movie.

Overall, how would I rate it? It’s very, very difficult to do so, since it feels like the presentation and the content scores would be so different. A 9/10 for the film-making itself, and a . . . 5/10 for the content? I guess we’ll give it the average and go with 7/10.

Anyone else seen it?

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