Perhaps one of the most well done war films of all time, All Quiet on the Western Front is a stunning film. An all encompassing film about World War One, All Quiet on the Western Front has been preserved by the United States Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and seen as “historically, culturally and aesthetically significant.” While all this information praises the great film I think even more talking is my opinion of it. I believe my opinion is important not because I have a big head but because I generally dislike war films but I thought this film was fantastic.
All Quiet on the Western Front follows a group of young men that enlist in the German Army during World War I. The film goes through all aspects of war, beginning with basic training where they meet the strict training officer Himmelstoss (John Wray). After training the group is sent out into the field. Paired with a platoon of veteran soldiers, the young group finds a mentor named Katczinsky who helps them find food and learn how to take cover. Despite Katczinsky’s help, the group loses a man during night patrol and their numbers continue to dwindle as they delve further and further into the war. We watch as the fresh recruits become veterans as they fight their way through battles and are forced to deal with losing their friends and comrades.
This film manages to analyze more aspects of war than most war films have time for. Hunger, living conditions, the battles, dealing with loss, insanity, war hospital’s and returning from the war are all covered. For most of the film the soldiers are desperate for food, not eating for days on end. When they do get food they only get a small amount and they must battle away the rats if they have any extra food to store. There is a lot of death in this film and the men deal with it differently. Some men cannot handle the constant death and pressure and start to lose their minds. Others have trouble accepting the death, risking their lives to bring back corpses or carrying a dead body to the medics, not able to accept it as dead.
If you haven’t seen the end of this film you may want to skip ahead to the next paragraph. The end of the film is an example of cinematic genius. During the devastating end of the film, in which one of the only living characters is killed after going back to the front lines, each character that has passed during the film is honored. The scene begins with a crane shot of a graveyard filled with white crosses. Juxtaposed over the graveyard is a shot of the main characters marching with their backs to the camera. As they pass the camera, each man looks over his shoulder directly into the camera. Juxtaposed over the graveyard, giving the walking men an almost ghostly effect, this was an outstanding ending honoring all the men we had lost during the film.
Again, All Quiet on the Western Front taught me not to judge a film based on the year it was made. I did not have much faith in a war film made in 1930 but it ended up being the best war film I have ever seen. The film was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Writing. Director Lewis Milestone took home the Oscar for Best Director and the film beat The Big House, Disraeli, the Divorcee and The Love Parade for Best Picture. This film is an example of cinematic brilliance. I give this an A+, a film that everybody should see at some point in their lives.
As should be quite evident by the amount I post about television and movies, my interest in film has increased exponentially over the past decade. For a while I would see movies every once in a while. I would see comedy films and the occasional action flick but my movie experiences did not go much past those genres. As time passed and I began expanding the films I saw, I delved into more and more genres including drama, foreign, kung-fu and almost anything that I could get my hands on. The one genre that it took me the longest to enjoy watching, and the genre is still hit and miss with me, was the war genre. The fact that I was very impressed buy the 1986 Oscar Best Picture winner Platoon suggests one of two things. The first, and least likely, is that I am really starting to like war movies. More likely is that Platoon is just an incredible film.
Reviewing this film is going to be very difficult because there are countless brilliant moments and so many great characters I could go on talking for pages and pages. The film, set in the Vietnam War, didn’t really focus on the overall events of the war itself but on the actions of a platoon in the war. Every shot in the film takes place during the war, no shots of any character’s life before or after. The film begins with the arrival of the main character Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen), a young man who dropped out of college to go to war. Dropped into the middle of a platoon that has been at war for a while, it is made obvious very early on that he is the new kid on the block. It takes Taylor a long time to fit in but eventually he is accepted by a group of soldiers and finds a mentor in Sergeant Elias (Willem Dafoe). The film follows Taylor as he tries to survive the war and find a safe place within his platoon, all while dealing with the horrors of war and what it can do to enemy and ally alike.
A number of different battles take place during the film and not all of them are physical. There are a number of different battles that take place with weapons as the platoon traverses the jungle terrain and their lives are put in danger multiple different times. What seems to be more scary than the guns and the weapons are the battles that take place between the members of the platoon and in the minds of the platoon members themselves. War has the ability to do some terrible things to an individual. There were two opposing ideas in the film that were perfectly illustrated by the films two sergeants, Sergeant Elias and Sergeant Barnes (Tom Berenger). Before their quarrel is allowed to escalate to an unreasonable conclusion, the two showed two different ways to approach the war. Barnes is a soldier through and through, in Vietnam to win and there to follow every order exactly. His goal is to win the war by any means necessary and not to let anything get in the way of victory. Elias on the other hand seems to be there to help. He has gone to war not just to win but to help the area and make it a safe place for those living there. During his free time he tries to make the best of the situation and get to know his soldiers. The literal battle that occurred between Barnes and Elias demonstrated the conflicted feelings that occur within soldiers and within people that look at the war.
One specific scene in this film that I will never forget is a scene that I have come to think of as the village scene. The platoon is tasked to clear a village of hostile enemies but much more happens. I used the word horrors before and the inspiration for that word was this scene. The scene was full of shocking material but somehow director Oliver Stone managed to continued to develop his characters even while focusing on horror. Another scene in the film that I’ll never forget and that most people know is the famous scene with a soldier falling in battle, with his arms raised up to the sky. I’m not going to tell you which soldier it was, in case you don’t know, but the scene was heart-breaking even with the infamy surrounding it.
Winning the 1987 Oscar for Best Picture, Platoon went up against Hannah and Her Sisters, Children of a Lesser God, a Room with a View and the Mission. Both Tom Berenger and Willem Dafoe earned Supporting Actor nominations and Oliver Stone brought home the win for Best Director. I was surprised by how well done this film really was. As far as being a well done film, looking at shots and acting, I give this a 4 out of 5 and as far as me liking the film, though it was devastating, I also give it a 4 out of 5 giving Platoon and overall 8 out of 10.