Google ‘Best War Movies’. Nine times out of ten, you’ll see classics like Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now, The Thin Red Line and others of a similar ilk. What do they all have in common? They’re all American (and sometimes British) made. Never before has there been a war movie of such popularity that tells the story from a German standpoint. Although there probably are others, I can’t recall one ever garnering such an international audience before. Of course, a lot of that may be to do with the fact that Netflix is the distributor, but the real question is whether or not it deserves all the accolades it’s been receiving.
Like most war movies, All Quiet on the Western Front takes place primarily on the battlefield and in foreign territory. It begins with a group of friends including our hero, Paul, (Felix Kammerer) voluntarily joining the German army after falling into the trap of being swayed by the romanticism of the war by his superiors. Almost immediately though, they realise the true, devastating nature of what’s happening on the Western Front as they are thrust amongst the throes of war in a split second.
So, I managed to squeezed this one in literally moments before the Oscars ceremony began… and I’m glad I did, not least because it ended up going on a win streak. I had an inkling that it would do better than anyone imagined, but wow, it really ran away with things in the end.
The thing is, I’m still not a huge fan of war movies even after seeing (and enjoying) Saving Private Ryan a few weeks ago. With All Quiet on the Western Front though, there are a few things that make it more interesting than the others. Mainly, the aforementioned fact that it is told from the German side’s perspective makes it wholly more intriguing and unique: we’ve heard so much from the allied side of things that it’s getting so snoozy. All Quiet has the leg up on other similar films purely because it has a more compelling and original POV.
In terms of the wins it received at the Academy Awards, I’ve heard so many people upset that it won Best Score… but honestly that was my favourite thing about this movie. It is so audibly sinister and impactful that its simplicity (pretty much 3 deep bass sounds) is what makes it so great. Obviously the cinematography and production design are fabulous too and there is so clearly a lot of work that went on behind the scenes here. Anyone begrudging this film’s Oscar wins maybe wasn’t paying enough attention.
Perhaps the most enthralling thing here for me? The fact that this was Felix Kammerer‘s first major role and he’s absolutely flawless. The script itself plays a big part in forcing emotion, but Kammerer and his fragile yet hardened depiction of a German soldier is heartbreaking from start to finish and I hope he has a long career ahead of him. Judging by this, he deserves it.
On the whole I can’t say that it’s the most memorable film of all time since there are so many in this genre and indeed on this war specifically. But what is on show is so incredibly well done that even if it’s a flash in the pan, it is a really profound and thoughtful watch.
All Quiet on the Western Front is currently streaming on Netflix in the UK.
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