Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 4, 2023)
In general, it seems like a mistake to remake a movie than won the Best Picture Oscar. However, when that film came out 92 years earlier, I guess it becomes fair game, and this brings us to the 2022 version of All Quiet On the Western Front.
Three years into World War I, teenaged Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) and a group classmates find themselves strongly encouraged by society to join the military as soon as legally possible. Young and callow, the boys buy into the propaganda and enlist.
Thrown into battle without adequate preparation, they struggle to survive. However, Paul does endure and still finds himself alive in November 1918, when the powers that be consider armistice talks – but keep the soldiers unaware and under the continued belief that victory remains at hand.
That last plot point marks an alteration from the 1930 movie and Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 source novel. Both of those end in October 1918, not November, and they don’t feature the negotiations between the war powers.
This makes the finale to the 1930 film more sadly ironic, as it features the death of characters close to the end of the war – which formally concluded November 11, 1918 – but not with the tantalizing proximity of the 2022 flick’s events. This feels like a misstep to me, as it makes the unnecessary sacrifices too on the nose.
With the versions that end in October, we find ourselves saddened by deaths because we know the soldiers only needed to hold out a few more weeks. Though on the surface the decision to make the time span for survival only a few hours might sound like one that adds impact, I think the reverse proves true.
Mainly I think this because I believe the change feels trite. The 2022 Front features a ticking clock that doesn’t really exist in the 1930 film, and this seems like an unnecessary distraction.
Also, the scenes with the various officials detract from the original first-person orientation. The book and 1930 movie revolve around Paul’s POV virtually the whole time, whereas here we lose him for considerable chunks of cinema.
The original Front acted as an anti-war tale that showed how impressionable youth go from wide-eyed and eager to beaten down and cyncial. It focused less on the brutality of war and more on the dehumanizing aspects and the role of propaganda.
For the most part, the 2022 Front abandons these notions. While Paul changes through the story, he doesn’t undergo quite the same journey, and another alteration in plot impacts this theme as well.
While the 1930 Front included a sequence in which Paul visited home. During this span, he sees how the townspeople still buy into the propaganda and witnesses the same people as they spin the same lies that seduced him and his friends.
That powerful sequence aptly depicts Paul’s changes and gives them impact, especially because they demonstrate the knowing manner in which authority figures mislead kids. Unfortunately, the 2022 Front loses the segment entirely, so we don’t get this revealing view of how war altered Paul’s perspective.
Instead, the 2022 Front largely just sticks with combat. While it offers occasional scenes of the German soldiers in quieter moments, it doesn’t develop any of them especially well – not even Paul – an it favors the loud violence instead.
Which can be seen as a viable choice to deliver the ugly truth of war. However, scads of other movies cover similar territory, and I find little to separate Front from that pack.
Not that we don’t need reminders of these issues, especially in the way Front depicts how little most of the leaders care about the lives of the soldiers. The movie shows the war machine in full froth and implies how the boys exist as little more than meat for the grinder.
Front establishes these concepts in some vivid ways. For instance, the opening shows how the uniforms of dead soldiers got recycled for use by new recruits, with the implication that the deadly carousel never stops.
These work, but I still feel this Front loses a lot of the purpose found in the novel and 1930 movie. In his commentary, writer/director Edward Berger explores these domains and tells us why he made the changes.
I respect his positions and don’t feel a source needs to be copied explicitly when re-adapted. However, the changes need to improve the tale, and I don’t think that occurs here, as the alterations tend to feel gratuitous.
I don’t want to sound wholly negative about Front, as it creates a fairly evocative war film. I just think it doesn’t fare as well as the 1930 movie and it delivers a movie that doesn’t stand out as above the rest of the pack.