“All Quiet” is entrenched in cliches

Sonali Khanna, A&E Editor

Adapted from Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name, Edward Berger’s All Quiet on the Western Front begins with a tranquil look at European landscapes, boasting the continent’s remaining beauty before the men that inhabit it desecrate it with war. The year is 1917 — Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) and many like him celebrate their newfound ability to fight in The Great War, oblivious to its brutality. Berger repeatedly switches between serene nature and the bleak trenches Paul eventually ends up in, including a look at the beauty of the world that soldiers like Paul died too young to experience.

The film’s source material is penned by a veteran of the war it covers, but Gerber makes no effort to stay loyal to it. A vital change from paper to screen is the inclusion of French and German diplomats negotiating an armistice — which is basically just old men bickering about the war as young men die in it. Adding a subplot entirely detached from German soldiers lulls the story as it is nowhere near as interesting as the gruesome battles going on in the western trenches. 

Amidst all the unnecessary changes, Gerber reaches the same ending as the novel, but the build-up to it is weaker due to the liberties he takes. His attention to detail with the scenery is not met with the same effort writing-wise, which is why each detour from the Remarque’s work feels like a surrender to formulaic writing. 

Contrary to the film’s stunning visuals, its Oscar-winning score is nothing special. A signature three-note segment repeats itself tirelessly and adds nothing but annoyance to vital moments. A weak score doesn’t ruin a movie… but it certainly doesn’t make one better. 

As we follow Paul during his year-long involvement in the military, we know nothing about him aside from his once-optimistic look at war. The novel thoroughly explores elements like his changing personality and family-life, but for some reason Gerber is not interested in creating a fleshed-out character. With war movies, a character doesn’t have to have the most heartfelt backstory for one to feel bad for them because their dire circumstances are in the focus, but ignoring it entirely makes the movie feel like a compilation of stereotypical war tropes at times.

All Quiet on the Western Front is captivating to look at but woefully mediocre in every other aspect, especially its score and writing. Gerber’s rendition of Remarque’s novel triumphs in depicting the depravity of German soldiers, but there’s only so much filmmakers can say about the brutality of war before the concept loses all appeal.