Erich Maria Remarque’s seminal World War I novel got the early Hollywood treatment almost as soon as it was published in 1929. The 1930 American film is overblown and melodramatic, and Edward Berger returns to the source material’s gritty realism in a German-language version for Netflix. The German title of All Quiet on the Western Front translates literally as ‘Nothing new in the west’, and Berger turns his attention to the unfathomable cycle of horrors – of millions of young men losing their lives over mere metres. 

It is not a new story now, nor was it in 1918 when Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) signs up in high spirits with some school mates. But watching the war unfold through his unknowing eyes is harrowing, from the moment he finds a dog tag on his supposedly new uniform to frantic attempts to murder – then save – an enemy combatant. Particularly effective is the pouding score, electronic instruments enhancing the hellishness of their ordeal.

Less effective is the adaptational choice to follow Armistice dealings simultaneously, removing Paul’s eyes as our sole look at the world. The red velvet rooms of negotiations are a striking visual contrast to the mud, blood, and missing limbs, but the novel’s focus on Paul’s camaraderie with his fellow recruits and trench mates is somewhat lost in the geopolitical negotiations. The new opening and reworked ending are far more effective at expanding the world, honing in on overwhelming horrors and the careless loss of innumerable lives – a tragedy it’s hard to face full on, and to which Berger gives everything in these sequences. 

All Quiet on the Western Front is relentlessly, appropriately grim, with an impeccable design evoking a landscape and generation ruined. Unfortunately, it dials down Remarque’s lovingly-written friendships, removing the story’s individual cadence among other WWI narratives. 



CAST: Felix Kammerer, Albrecht Schuch, Aaron Hilmer, Moritz Klaus

DIRECTOR: Edward Berger

WRITERS: Edward Berger, Ian Stokell, Leslie Patterson

SYNOPSIS: Towards the end of World War I, a group of German teenagers sign up expecting an easy patriotic victory; they instead face a nightmare in the trenches.