REVIEW: ‘Western Front’ features a heartbreaking perspective of WWI

“All Quiet on the Western Front” is definitely not the easiest watch of 2022, but it is one of the better movies of the year.

Based on the famous novel, “All Quiet on the Western Front” tells the story of Paul (Felix Kammerer), a young man who enlists in the German Army in 1917, a year before World War I ended. He enters the war filled with enthusiasm, driven by messages of nationalism during his enlistment.

That enthusiasm dissipates quickly, though, as Paul is thrust into trench warfare. As the war drags on, Paul sees his friends regularly killed in action while facing constant danger in the muddy trenches.

Similar to “1917” from a few years ago, this new adaptation of “All Quiet” shows the miserable conditions that young men had to exist in when they weren’t fighting in horrific battles. Unlike “1917,” though, which took place over a short period of time with characters on a mission that needed to be accomplished quickly, “Western Front” shows a good deal of time passing.

The movie showcases Paul’s journey from a teenager looking for glory in war, driven by propaganda, to a battle-hardened soldier just trying to survive. It’s a bleak story that was shared by far too many young men in the first World War, where millions died despite the lines barely moving on that front.

Director Edward Berger wisely focuses not only on Paul and company, but Germany’s leadership as well. Viewers are able to see the higher-ups making decisions well removed from the action, in comfortable spaces, with the lives of thousands in their hands.

Courtesy Netflix.

As previously stated, “All Quiet” isn’t an easy watch. The horrors of war are all shown in their entirety, and the picture documents how it leads to the wounds and mental breakdowns the soldiers suffer.

There are no heroes or honorable acts featured in “Western Front.” It’s a dour period, especially as the audience knows the protagonists are fighting on the losing side of a war that was fought with little to gain for anyone firing the guns.

Felix Kammerer in the lead role gives a moving performance, acutely portraying his character’s declining mental state as he becomes a hardened soldier. The film is very much a character study about what this war did to those who experienced it and Kammerer effectively gives the exploration merit.

The picture is also finely crafted technically. It has a moody, grey visual identity, capturing the bleakness of the war. The sound work and make-up, as well as the set and costume design also help bring true authenticity to the picture.

This a strong adaptation of “All Quiet.” As far as war movies go, it is one that is rather straightforward. It also doesn’t hit the emotional highs and lows that others in the genre have. However, for its honest, intense and gripping portrait of WWI, it deserves a watch. 4 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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