I was in junior high when I had to read the Erich Maria Remarque anti-war novel, All Quiet on the Western Front; this was around the time when the Richard Thomas/Ernest Borgnine TV movie version aired in ’79.
The book and that TV movie messed with my head.
The original, Oscar-winning film adaptation came out in 1930. Both films were American-made depictions of German soldiers during World War I—sympathetic portrayals of “the bad guys.”
The latest adaptation, from German director Edward Berger, is the first time a team from Germany has adapted the novel into a visual medium. The first two movies are fine—but this third take might be the best. (I do love me some Ernest Borgnine, though, so I am going to have to go back and watch the ’79 one again before passing final judgement.)
This version is more in the mode of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Stone’s Platoon in that it goes full-bore with the violence and horrors of war, at a hard, R-rated level. It differentiates itself from the likes of Ryan in that absolutely nothing about this movie is uplifting.
This is a hard movie to watch. It’s well-acted by Felix Kammerer as German soldier Paul Bäumer, who finds himself fighting the war in France during its final days. Paul and his friends soon learn that these final days offer little chance for heroism—a terrible end to a war in which two out of every three soldiers died in the battlefields. It’s an especially horrible time for these young soldiers on the losing side.
I’ve never seen a war movie more grisly, so proceed with caution. I don’t think junior high schools will be suggesting this one as viewing homework to students. It’s a little too much for pre-teens—and might be too much for many adults as well.
All Quiet on the Western Front is now streaming on Netflix.