Coupling a minimalist (albeit loud-and-thumping) score by Volker Bertelmann and a cold, unfeeling color scheme by cinematographer James Friend gives a menacing, unwaveringly serious savagery to director Edward Berger’s aesthetic—danger and imminent violence are palpable even when there is hardly any action onscreen.
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Edward Berger returns to the German source material, adding some twists and turns, in a wrenching, visceral adaptation of a work that is almost a century old, written when ruined veterans could still hear the sound of the gunfire in their dreams.
All Quiet on the Western Front exists to make the viewer uncomfortable – infinitely preferable to what the characters endure.
It’s a visceral experience, albeit a less punishing one than some other modern war films.
The onslaught of death is more relentless (and numbing) here, yes. But we don’t know these young men as well when they do meet their deaths, which makes the loss hurt just a little less.
Regardless of its minor flaws, Berger and his crew have crafted a faithful and heart-wrenching adaptation that fully realizes the novel’s trenchant anti-war themes.
There are dull stretches — interrupted by moments of terror — but that’s not really a complaint for a movie such as this. “All Quiet on the Western” is only partly a narrative. It’s also an immersive experience, an invitation to walk in someone else’s shoes, albeit from the safe side of a screen.
History nerds will note the strenuous efforts to capture the realities of the conflict, but the film’s use of smart Spielbergian grace notes to share its emotional truths is a real strength, too.
Rather than portray its characters as glorious heroes bravely fighting for their country, or even ending the film on an optimistic note, "All Quiet on the Western Front" is tragic from beginning to end, and is relentlessly, almost unbearably, bleak. That's the point. It's the ultimate anti-war war film.
This is a war movie from the perspective of the losers, visually spectacular but by turns infuriating and heartbreaking. “All Quiet” is excessive, but it probably needs to be; the screenplay by Berger, Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell takes a dark story and makes it even darker.