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MOVIES: All Quiet on the Western Front - Review

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It is the third year of the great war, and four boys join up to go to the western front. It's not long before their false patriotism, and the war propaganda is revealed to be a lie, the first night they get their their shelter is destroyed by an enemy attack and one of them dies. It's a brutal awakening especially for our protagonist, Paul Baumer - caught in the middle of it all - who could have stayed at home, but joined up because he didn't want to be left behind.

The soul-destroying horror of war is something that isn't a unique subject to cinema but All Quiet on the Western Front learns from the mistakes of films like 1917 that feel like pure gimmick exercises and remembers that there are characters at the heart of the war - these people are people and they have honest, human stories. The film uses a similiar scoring motif to Black Sabbath's War Pigs to capture the difference between the generals and its soldiers - they're frequently shown in lavish dining rooms eating fine dining and dressed in fancy clothes, whilst the soldiers are fighting and dying on the front lines. The film narrates right up until the end of the war from the German perspective, such a rarity told in cinema that the few films that this one can be compared to are in fact the previous iterations of All Quiet on the Western Front, and its source material - the novel by a war veteran Erich Maria Remarque. It has the novel's unmatched sense of authenticity - every horror, and I mean every horror - is captured in Edward Berger's film - gas, tanks, flamethrowers - you see the advancement of technology from the front lines of the soldiers with the tanks advancing like something out of a horror movie - if you've seen films like The Painted Bird you'll know what to expect here, and the film makes even the simplest choice of naming the throwaway characters so that you care just a little bit more about them - them addressing each other as friends tells you more than exposition ever would, and it makes it more horrifying when they're gunned down moments later in a bloody, brutal opening sequences that recalls to mind Saving Private Ryan, ramped up to eleven.

This is war - hell on Earth - the hopelessness of it all unmatched by little else of the past ten years, even by Christopher Nolan's best, Dunkirk - All Quiet on the Western Front is a technical and character-driven marvel, slowing down to spend time with who Paul is as a character and how he's shaped by war, and we learn more about his friends, his comrades - Kat and Albert, played by Albrecht Schuch and Aaron Hilmer respectively, who pack them with enough personality to give them fully fleshed character arcs.

The technical aspect of it all works like a charm - James Friend's stylised visuals paint a horrifying portrait of war but this is far more than just style over substance - there's depth and character to back it up in the images. Individual frames tell entire stories - it's raw, visceral and horrifyingly soul-destroying - there's just no other words to describe it. The film shows you how disposable everybody is, even its leads - and is punctuated by two, equally devastating bookends that remind you of the hopelessness of the first world war especially. This should, by all accounts - be the definitive portrayal of it - best experienced in the big screen but the important factor is that it is at least seen - by far the best film of 2022 and if we're honest it should be an Oscar contender too. I encourage anyone to be pro-war after watching this - maybe the ultimate anti-war movie.

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