I’ll admit it; when it comes to Netflix, I’m a fan of the shows that they put out, but their movies rarely impress me. I kind of look at Netflix films as the modern version of direct-to-video releases. They have big stars, but the quality just isn’t up to par with the big releases you’ll see in the theater. Even big name stuff like The Irishman — it was good, but not the masterpiece I was expecting. Honestly, my favorite films on Netflix are The Babysitter films with Samara Weaving, just a fun little film, that is basically the kind of expectations I have for a Netflix film, and even the more recent release of We Have a Ghost I thought was charming and may have done well on the big screen. As for Knives Out 2, fun but forgettable. So when I see films from the streaming service get Oscar nominations and even win, I can’t but feel the need to pull the wax out of my ears and make sure I heard that right. This is also why we’re in May and I’m just now watching the adaption of the film All Quiet on the Western Front. This is the third time the film has been made, but this is the only version I have seen, and, well, I have to admit not only is this a good film, but it is a great film, and I feel it deserves every bit of recognition it has received.
One of the most impressive moments in this film comes early on in a brief battle sequence, but it is the aftermath of the battle that matters here. We get to see the journey of a uniform as it is stripped off the corpse of a soldier and then is shipped away to be washed up, sewn up, and prepared for the next soldier to call it their own. It’s an effective moment early on to remind us that not only is war unkind, but that it is a machine that is always working and churning out the next shooter and inevitably the next unfortunate soul to watch a bullet, a stab wound, or a random bit of shrapnel, and then the cycle starts all over again. Then for an added touch of inhumanity to it all, when a name tag on a uniform is ripped away and discarded with many other discarded name tags on the floor, that visual reminder that these boys are nothing more than bodies of flesh, and who they really are doesn’t even matter.
This story follows Paul (Felix Kammerer) who enlists with the Germans along with a group of his friends to join in the fight of World War I. It doesn’t take long till they are brought to the Western Front and are battling in the trenches against the French opposition. It’s hard to not watch this and think about the Stanley Kubrick film Paths of Glory and then more currently the film 1917. It doesn’t take long for Paul to have to confront the tragedies of war, but we’re along with him for the ride as he struggles to fight his way through the trenches battle after battle, hoping to make it out alive to see the end of the war. It’s his bond with Kat (Albrecht Schuch) that is the heart of this film, one watching over the other on the battlefield, and the mischief they get into when they are outside of battle like when they decide to steal a goose from a French farmer.
When the story isn’t with Paul, we see it follow the higher-ranking officers and the political negotiations going on between the French and the Germans. It’s frustrating watching these moments, because the officers are so far removed from the battle and don’t seem to care how their decisions are costing the lives of so many. They are more bothered that their pastry may not be as fresh as to their liking. I do appreciate how this film isn’t so much about who was on the right or the wrong side of the war but that the soldiers who were losing their lives and limbs in battle were simply carrying out orders they had no control over, and refusal meant a swift and immediate death. The transformation we see in Paul is a bit haunting, and we see just how important it is to have those friends around you when things get bad to remind you when to enjoy the little things when you’re not in the trenches.
The cinematography here is great, and it is no surprise that it got an Academy award for it. While I’m still more partial towards 1917 being a superior film, this has some moments that are just as impactful. Just about every moment in the battle scenes are immersive and have you in the middle of the bloodshed and the firefights. But then when the camera focuses on the surrounding nature, it’s a reminder that even surrounded by tranquil beauty you can be subjected to the horrors of war. Sure, I understand the film being spoken in German, and the 148-minute run time may put some viewers off, but this really is one of those films that belongs in the conversation of best war films of all time.
All Quiet on the Western Front is presented in 2.39:1 aspect ratio and averages around 24 mbps. This is a beautiful yet grim-looking film which suits the subject matter. A lot of the look of the film is heavily saturated and has a blue filter to give it a colder look and basically just strips the color and life out of the image, and this works for setting the tone. When we see the higher-ranking officials, far removed from the war, either in luxurious train cars or structures making their decisions on what their next move is, we see a lot more color and warmth in these images, which is a contrast that works to show how removed they are from the danger. There is a fair amount of digital blood that is easier to notice because of the saturation of the image, but the mud and actual makeup we see applied to the characters looks great. There is a sequence where Paul has his face caked in mud, and the detail is impressive. Then there is just some beautiful imagery throughout. It’s no surprise why this one won best cinematography.
The Dolby Atmos 5.1 track is in German, but it does come with English subtitles. This is a pretty loud film. I had to turn it down a bit compared to what I’m used to, because all the gunfire and explosions just were a bit much. There are a couple instances where the subs get put to the test with a sequence where one of the bunkers are being bombed as well one when tanks are rolling forward to attack. There is a solid sound design here that does allow for an immersive battle experience, and then there is that chilling score. A solid experience.
(There is also a commentary track with the director Edward Berger.)
The Making Of: (18:27) This is a pretty standard all encompassing look at the making of the film. One of the highlights was getting to see them prepping some of the trench shots and the training the cast went through for their roles.
This was an unexpected surprise. I’ll admit I came into this with low expectations, but by the time the credits were rolling, I loved this film. This and 1917 are easily my favorite war films in the past decade, and I plan on watching them as a double feature because they simply complement each other so well. I haven’t seen the previous versions of the film, but I plan on doing so now. If you are a fan of films about war, this is definitely one I’d call a must-see.