It seems to be Hollywood's par for the course. Every holiday season you can count on being greeted by one holocaust movie after another. Nothing seems to signal "I'm Academy Award material" like a good old trip down the memory lane of World War II! This year is no different, with 4 movies tackling the weighty subject. Each film has many merits and few drawbacks. All are works of art worthy of your time and money. I covered 'Australia" previously and you can see that review here. Now I'm adding my brief takes on movies I really could go on and on about.
"The Reader" checks out 5 Red Vines for being a mesmerizing experience.
Far and away the best of the bunch, this movie actually starts in the 90's and works its way back to those dark years. A grown man (Ralph Fiennes) relives his past as a German youth in post Hitler Berlin. After becoming ill on the way home from school, a brusque older woman (Kate Winslet) takes pity on him and cleans him up. He becomes fascinated with her and eventually has a brief affair. Years later he discovers her past as a concentration camp guard. His mind cannot reconcile the atrocities she was a part of yet his heart cannot let go of the love he once felt for her. This movie is a haunting exploration of how the post war generation of Germans have had to come to terms with their country's hateful past and how their parents, teachers, leaders and other loved ones were tied into that past. You will never see a single prisoner yet the horror of Nazi inhumanity will wipe out any memory of the movie's R-rated sex scenes.
While Ralph Fiennes does a stellar narration job his scenes are somewhat limited. As his character's virginal self, David Kross brings a great deal of youthful exuberance and ultimately world weary disillusionment mixed with heartbreaking disappointment to his gut wrenching performance.
Still the movie belongs to Kate Winslet. She breathes life and blood into a monster that will bring you to tears. But her physical transformation is just the beginning. It is the display of her very soul that is mesmerizing to watch. You might go to see "The Reader" for Kate Winslet but you will not see Kate Winslet. You will spend your time in the dark theater with Hannah Schmidt. I've seen a lot of movies lately and Ms. Winslet gets my nod for Best Actress. No easy feat when your competition is the sheer perfection that is Meryl Streep!
"The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas"
"The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" locks up 4 Red Vines for first rate storytelling.
From a holocaust movie with no holocaust victims to one that wallows in it, "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" concerns itself with the war as seen through a child's eyes. The movie opens with a swinging party at a nice house. A family man has received a promotion and his family and friends are celebrating in high style before they must move away to their new home. The kids are mischievous, the wife elegant and beautiful, the parents proud. Then the man makes his way down the staircase in his new uniform, a Nazi uniform. It isn't long before we realize his new post is that of Kommandant at Auschwitz. But the revelation comes slowly to his small family. Told that they are monitoring a farm for Jews, the 9 year old boy in the family becomes obsessed with finding out 'what lies beyond the fence' of his family's compound. As soon as he gets an opportunity to escape and explore, he seizes it. He comes across the camp and discovers a small boy about his age. He befriends the boy, never realizing his new friend's dire predicament. The consequences for him, his friend and his family are devastating. Though this is not based on a true story it is another tear jerker, done beautifully with much heart. And special kudos go to young talents Asa Butterfield as Bruno and Jack Scanlon as Schmuel who bring this story of the holocaust's most innocent victims to light.
"Valkyrie" shoots down 4 Red Vines for making a Tom Cruise movie I actually liked
"Valkyrie" is as complex as the plot to assassinate Hitler but stellar direction and acting help the audience follow the intricacies. It's a tense thriller and that's not an easy thing to accomplish when the outcome is a forgone conclusion. While Mr. Cruise does an admirable job, I find it hard to totally buy into a movie that takes place in the very heart of the 3rd Reich without even a trace of German dialect. This was only more glaring with the repeated showing of documents written in German. The odd juxtaposition was even more jarring with the opening narration in German dissolving to Mr. Cruise's perfect American accent. It took me a while to understand that he was in fact a German soldier and not some Allied infiltrator.
But to be honest, everyone I've shared my opinion with favored no dialects, fearing that any would be done poorly. My father and a co-worker said it was the actress in me that was so unforgiving. Maybe. Then again, everyone I discussed this movie with were men and anxious to see a WWII movie. So don't let my one complaint hold you back from enjoying this worthy and interesting history on celluloid.