A film about war and another that is remarkably simple but satisfying
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (US-Rated R)
Cast: Felix Kammerer, Aaron Hilmer, Albrecht Schuch, Daniel Bruhl
Genre: War, Drama
Where to watch: Netflix
You be the judge!
Was it necessary to remake a film regarded by many as one of the greatest of all time, and, without doubt, one of the greatest movies about war?
And was it necessary at this very time, when, in the last few years, we’ve had a steady stream of war movies, about almost every conflict ever known? And yet another picture about World War I – one of the most ridiculous, senseless and unnecessary wars in the history of mankind?
Plus, this version of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” just like the source novel and the 1930 film (there was also a TV movie in 1979), is about WWI from the German perspective. The losers?!
And that’s remarkable not just because they lost, but also because as the leaders of the Central Powers, they were primarily responsible for dragging the whole affair out and on for four brutal years.
Now, the producing team – much like novelist Erich Maria Remarque with his 1929 German novel of the same name (in German: “Im Westen nichts Neues”), and the landmark 1930 film that followed – sought to make an anti-war film, displaying how horrific war is and why it should be avoided at all costs.
The novel and the original film likely achieved that goal. So-much-so, that the Nazis burned the books and banned the movie. The big question, though, is whether this film does that too.
The basic plot: war breaks out in Germany in 1914. Young Paul Bäumer and his classmates quickly enlist in the army to serve their fatherland. No sooner are they drafted than the first images from the battlefield show them the harsh reality of war.
Indeed, the picture shows how many young impressionable German men were lured into this perverse conflict, under the guise of nationalism.
It’s not exactly explicitly calling for sympathy for these misled and misguided soldiers, and not entirely portraying them as victims. Not entirely! But it is a delicate balance. And perhaps you will see it differently. But… whew!
The film does portray one thing I’d never heard before (and it compelled me to do some research). According to this version, on Armistice Day on November 11, which is now known as Remembrance Day (Veterans Day in the U.S.), while the treaty calling for the cessation of fighting was signed early that morning, bringing the war to end at 11am (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month), fighting and killing continued right up until the 10 o’clock hour, even though these soldiers knew fully well the war was to come to an end.
An internet search can show you names of soldiers from all sides that were the very last to be killed on November 11, 1918. Unbelievable stuff!
There are some incredibly horrific, graphic and powerful scenes. You’ll never forget one scene with Paul and a French soldier. It will live on with you forever! It’s all truly sad and disturbing.
Obviously, there are some fascinating aspects of this version of “All Quiet on the Western Front”. But for me, it’s hard to overlook some of its issues, and examine it purely as a cinematic achievement.
Remaking a classic is always risky. The 1930 film won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 3rd Academy Awards, becoming the first Best Picture based on a novel to win the award. Unlike the original film, which was an American production, this one is German and in German (Netflix offers a version dubbed in English, if you’re not interested in reading English subtitles).
This 2022 version is up for nine Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best International Feature Film, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Visual Effects.
But just a few short years ago, we saw the equally spellbinding “1917” (2019), about two young British soldiers, which itself was up for 10 Academy Awards. And that one didn’t leave you wondering about motives and timing.
However, some will likely say that this is perfect timing, especially with what’s happening in Europe today. And that the world should not judge the soldiers seen as “the enemy” too harshly, without understanding what may be happening on their home front.
Well, you decide!
“Causeway” (US Rated R)
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Brian Tyree Henry, Linda Emond
Where to watch: Apple TV+
While not exactly a war movie, the horrors of war play a key role in “Causeway”.
Released in November on Apple TV+, the film stars Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence (“Silver Linings Playbook”), best known for her role in “The Hunger Games” film series, and Tony and Emmy nominee Brian Tyree Henry from TV’s “Atlanta”.
Lawrence plays Lynsey, a U.S. soldier, who experiences a traumatic brain injury during her tour in Afghanistan. This forces her to return home. She struggles to return to her daily life with her mother as she waits for her eventual redeployment.
This is a very straightforward drama, blessed with wonderful performances.
Lawrence is in fine form. If this were released 15 or 20 years ago, she and the film would likely have been up for many awards. However, we’ve seen this sort of movie quite a few times in the past couple decades, and it will remind you of a number of pictures about broken people trying to overcome personal life challenges. The Oscar-winning “Nomad” (2020) comes to mind.
Perhaps that’s why Henry received the sole – and well-deserved – Academy Award nomination for “Causeway”. As always, his performance here is amazing. “Atlanta” fans know there’s little he can’t do. And if you watched last summer’s “Bullet Train”, you know this North Carolina native can do a nearly flawless British accent as well.
Henry’s chemistry with Lawrence is astounding. In the hands of less-capable talents, “Causeway” could have gone completely off-the-rails and into a very deep ditch. But the pair help make what is a remarkably simple picture, extremely satisfying and quite touching.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email email@example.com and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.