All Quiet on the Western Front
A little after half of All Quiet on the Western Front passes, there is a powerful two-shot — ie. a shot of two characters — lying in a ditch, a metre away from each other.
One of them is Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer), a German teenager whose impulse and enthusiasm got him enlisted, and who by now has seen most of his schoolmates die from rogue bullets and grenades.
The other is Gérard Duval (Marek Simberský), a French typographer, who has a wife and a kid waiting for him back home.
Neither of them will get back home alive.
All Quiet on the Western Front encapsulates the idea every anti-war movie makes, that war is brutal and no man wants to kill the other. The George Clooney-Julia Roberts starrer Ticket to Paradise is a predictable entertainer than works primarily because of its leads’ chemistry
Just moments before, Duval had been blown inside the ditch by a bomb, and Bäumer, in desperation, waddling through water and mud in the hole, had flung himself over his enemy, repeatedly puncturing his chest with a knife.
With Duval surely on the brink of death, Bäumer topples to the ground beside him, one breathing a sigh of temporary relief, the other breathing his last.
At that instance, in the two-shot, other than the difference of life or death, one can see that these two are more or less one and the same: unknown men, scared, surviving, desperately clinging for a fading chance to go back home.
The scene, though, isn’t finished yet.
Duval gurgles blood and Bäumer, scared of being discovered, stuffs his mouth with dirt.
Hardly a minute later, overcome with guilt, Bäumer wipes that blood and dirt from his enemy’s mouth, and then squeezes water into the nearly dead man’s sputtering throat, saying that he’s sorry, while accidentally suffocating him.
The latter part of the scene is heartbreaking and encapsulates the idea every anti-war movie makes: war is brutal, and bad, and no man wants to kill the other.
It is needless to say that scenes of charging calvaries from trenches abound in All Quiet on the Western Front. The film is the German-produced adaptation of the famous novel by Erich Maria Remarque, about the war on the western front, where both the French and the German army lost and retook land mere metres from each other, every day until the end of the First World War.
The novel has been filmed twice before. The first version, made in Pre-Code Hollywood in 1930, won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, and is still acclaimed as one of the best films ever made by the American Film Institute.
The second version was a made-for-television movie by Delbert Mann in 1979, which had the tagline ‘They left for war as boys, never to return as men.’
Anyone watching the film knows this the moment the film starts, as we see a different side of war, from the perspective of a soldier’s uniform. The outfit journeys from its previous owner’s body, to being washed clean of blood, guts and grime, to the tables of seamstresses and their sewing machines, until it is finally recycled to a young new soldier.
Bäumer, to whom the uniform goes, is one of the 17 million hastily enlisted cadets of the First World War who lost their lives.
The film triumphs when it is in the trenches and battlegrounds. The tension co-screenwriter and director Edward Berger builds is slow and brutal, but the momentum snaps to a halt when the story shifts perspective to the two differing factions of the powers that be. One group tries to find peaceful means to settle the war, the other aims to develop a means to have their young men killed in the name of their countries.
Chances are that you may not know most of the ensemble cast in the film. The one face many would recognise is Daniel Brühl (Captain America: Civil War, Rush, Cloverfield Paradox). Brühl plays the assassinated German politician Matthias Erzberger, who signed the armistice between Germany and the Allied powers on November 11, 1918 (the actor is also one of the executive producers of the film).
As engaging and well-produced as this adaptation is (the film looks expensive), it pales in comparison to 1917 or Saving Private Ryan, because one cannot connect to the young soldiers, no matter how hard the story tries.
The screenplay does fabricate makeshift moments of emotional connectivity (a key scene involves stealing a goose and eggs from French farmers), but whatever moments we witness aren’t enough, despite engaging performances.
The film will appeal to war movie enthusiasts though. The long-running time, and a lack of depth, however, keeps it from being something truly unique.
All Quiet on the Western Front streams on Netflix and is rated suitable for ages 18 and over
Why is it that characters played by George Clooney and Julia Roberts can’t stand each other in movies?
Money Monster, Ocean’s Eleven, and now Ticket to Paradise, play with the notion that the two actors get a kick out of playing polar opposite ends of the spectrum.
To answer my own question: I think it is because the two really make the screen come alive…even if they are given mediocre, seen-it-all-before, material.
Ticket to Paradise is a callback to ’90s romantic comedies about a husband and wife who can’t stand each other but who have to unite to stop their freshly graduated daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) from marrying the young man of her dreams (Maxime Bouttier), whom she met while vacationing in Bali, and who happens to run a very successful business farming seaweed.
One can see that the screenplay by co-screenwriter/director Ol Parker (Mama Mia, Here We Go Again!) gives Clooney better scenes that brings out the depth of his character. Roberts, getting the short end of the stick, doesn’t fare that well.
Throughout the film, the actress gets throw-away scenes of comedy, where she steals wedding rings, verbally abuses Clooney, or headbutts or tranquilises her new boyfriend (a young pilot, played by Lucas Bravo) who doesn’t quite get her unwillingness to commit to a relationship.
Still, the rudimentary, predictable nature of the film works, right down to its implausible, freeze-frame edit of the two leads jumping into the waters together.
The film is predictable entertainment, the way predictable entertainment is meant to be made. Its mediocrity shines, but only because of Clooney and Roberts.
Released by Universal Pictures, Ticket to Paradise is rated PG-13
Published in Dawn, ICON, November 6th, 2022