Not every viewer will be willing or able to sit through two and a half hours of epic, bloody, graphically violent war reenactments. But those who do make it through this third film version (and the first in German) of the classic German novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, will be rewarded with a subtly humane tale of friendship, endurance, and the value of human life. The violence serves the story and its message. Director Edward Berger and team have done a jaw-dropping job of choreographing battlefield scenes, shooting them often at eye level and embedded in the trenches, giving the viewer the impression of being in the mix. A disquieting score relies heavily on single, melancholic beats that come and go with the action. Newcomer Kammerer is excellent as the wide-eyed recruit who barely withstands each passing day of tragedy.
Quiet is shot in grey, blue, and brown tones, and painstakingly conveys the soldiers' horrific, near-starvation, mud-caked, boot-soaked conditions. These are compared in overlapping scenes with the exquisite luxuries military leaders are afforded. Soldiers are killed, dismembered, exploded, set on fire, and sent into a last deadly battle just minutes before the armistice. The film has a clear theme of how little the lives of the young men seem to matter to some of the higher-ups, or to the enemy. "Soon Germany will be empty," one character says. End credits tell us almost 17 million people died in World War I, three million battling uselessly over the western front. Scenes capture how single trenches get passed back and forth on the same fought-over land between opposing sides for years, and how the uniforms of the dead are practically yet cynically washed, sewn back up, and handed out to new recruits, with perished soldiers' names on labels ripped out and tossed to the floor.