An Unflinching Portrayal of Pointless Combat


Erich Maria Remarque’s classic anti-war novel gets a brutal and unflinching adaptation for Netflix. All Quiet on the Western Front shows the true toll of World War I combat without sentimentality. There are no soaring speeches or gallant heroism here. Soldiers die horrifically for a pointless cause while elites dither. All patriotic fervor vanishes as rats chew mangled corpses on scarred battlefields as blood flows like rivers into muck-filled, frozen trenches. Hunger, desperation, and loneliness are only eased by companions in arms. Their tragic deaths further spiraling mental fragility. War is hell and gets rightly depicted as such.


A terrified German soldier charges out of his trench. He hacks and shoots at French enemies before him. His fate sealed the moment he was ordered to attack. Bodies are unceremoniously tossed into pits. Their bloody clothes and boots collected for the next savage fodder. Days later in early 1917 Northern Germany, young Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) forges his parents’ signature to enlist. He won’t miss the glorious action with his friends. They cheer as a teacher at the Imperial War Academy assures victory. Everyone will be back with an Iron Cross medal. Paul takes his uniform with pride. He’s surprised to see another man’s name stitched on the collar.

Paul and his classmates arrive to carnage at the front line in France. Nothing resembles his imagination. He’s cold, wet, and hungry in the trenches. They huddle together in a bunker as mortars hit them. Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch), an illiterate cobbler, takes Paul under his wing. Their introduction is interrupted when the bunker collapses.

Eighteen months later, Matthias Erzberger (Daniel Brühl) presents a staggering report to the German high command. They’ve lost forty-thousand troops in a matter of weeks. An armistice with the French must be negotiated or Germany will run out of men. The arrogant Field Marshall (Michael Wittenborn) decries such cowardice. They must meet this moment with all their might. On the front line in France, Paul and Kat are called back to the trenches with their regiment.

Paul’s Journey in All Quiet on the Western Front

All Quiet on the Western Front strikes the perfect balance between epic production design and bleak narrative. This is not an action film where the protagonist finds purpose. Paul’s journey is one of pure survival. His naïveté nearly gets him killed. A better soldier, Kat, helps the boy cope with their dangerous predicament. They have no choice but to fight. Deserters are shot on the spot. It’s kill or be killed. Paul’s countenance hardens with every murderous act. But he cannot escape the guilt of taking life. A heart-wrenching scene has Paul breaking as he watches a man die slowly.

Acclaimed German director Edward Berger is masterful in every aspect. He vividly portrays trench warfare and the use of chemical weapons. There’s no respite from the elements. The trenches are pits of despair. The eager, fresh-faced young recruits become nearly unrecognizable as the plot progresses. Paul’s teeth yellow as he’s repeatedly covered in grime and entrails. He and Kat steal food from French farmers to bolster meager rations of rotting turnip bread. This is in stark contrast to the fresh croissants and roasted meats savored by the military brass. Hunger is a constant, driving factor.

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All Quiet on the Western Front Looks Magnificent


Cinematographer James Friend (Patrick Melrose, Your Honor) catapults himself into awards consideration. All Quiet on the Western Front looks magnificent. The use of smoke and mist to light the battles is remarkable. Flares illuminate pitch black nights as the German soldiers run towards and flee other trenches. This is also contrasted by the white beauty of the snow-covered French countryside. You see that pristine lands are being mercilessly ravaged.

Lewis Milestone’s All Quiet on the Western Front won Best Picture in 1930. Berger’s version of the novel hits the same powerful thematic notes. Millions of soldiers died in a conflict where the lines barely shifted. “The war to end all wars” opened a new era of weaponry and staggering casualties. Paul was the pawn of men who never imagined calamitous defeat. His destiny wasted by their despicable hubris. Over a hundred years later, we need only look to Ukraine for a lesson that’s never learned.

All Quiet on the Western Front is a production of Amusement Park Films, Rocket Science, and Sliding Down Rainbows Entertainment. It has German dialogue with English subtitles. The film is currently in limited US theatrical release with a Netflix global premiere on October 28th.


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