Let’s see if war is hell.

I was surprised to hear about a remake of the old classic and am glad I gave it a shot. All Quiet on the Western Front is an absolute triumph of filmmaking.

Our film opens in mid-battle, where we follow a young terrified German soldier as he is forced out of the trenches and onto the killing fields. The opening ends with our soldier dead, his body stripped, his clothing cleaned and restitched and sent to another young man. This time, it goes to Paul (Felix Kammerer) who joins the war with visions of being in Paris in a short time and being a hero for the Fatherland. He, and several of his friends, sign up and are praised by their peers and elders.

When they arrive at the front, well, reality sets in. They are immediately freezing, wet, miserable, and under constant threat of attack. Paul is nearly killed almost immediately and forced to remove the dog tags of fallen soldiers–including one of his schoolyard friends. The war is awful, dirty, terrifying, and relentless.

As one battle turns into another the days seem to bleed together. Our soldiers cling to small moments of joy with the terrified trauma behind their eyes. Their teeth slowly rot, and we watch Paul age and hollow in just a few months.

The scale of this film is almost hard to fathom. The small details and the grand scope both work in sync to create one of the most affecting films I have seen. Watching these young men–some little more than children, go through hell and where many of them don’t make it is simply heartwrenching.

Running counter to the story in the trenches is the tale of the higher-ups. In well-lit offices with clean clothes and fancy food. The war is lost but they refuse to do anything. Stonewalled by harsh terms from the French, thousands and thousands more will die over chunks of land not more than an acre in size. 

This is a powerful and tough film. It is also simply a masterpiece. A nearly flawless cinematic experience that dives into aspects of the human condition, friendship, history, and trauma. This is an absolute must watch and a major win for Netflix. Easily one of the best films if not the best of the year.

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