THE GOOD TRAITOR – movie review

THE GOOD TRAITOR (Vores mand i Amerika)
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Christina Rosendahl
Writers: Kristian Bang Foss, Danja Gry Jensen, Christina Rosendahl
Cast: Ulrich Thomsen, Burn Gorman, Ross McCall, Zoë Tapper, Denise Gough, Pixie Davies, Henry Goodman, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Nicholas Blane
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/25/21
Opens: March 26, 2021

Poster for The Good Traitor

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen, capital city of a country that heroically ferried its Jewish population of 7200 to safety in neutral Sweden, thereby saving their lives from Nazi onslaught. Denmark, which is now among the most progressive countries in the world embracing what may be called Medicare for All, generous parental leave, long time off in the summer, has a problem in its twentieth century history. There was, I fear, something rotten in the state of Denmark, because when Hitler invaded the small country, the Danish government offered virtually no resistance, negotiating with the Hun almost immediately. The cowardly action gained more opprobrium when its king and prime minister fired its ambassador to the U.S., an action resisted by the person holding that office, which called its outpost in Washington the official government of Denmark in exile.

“The Good Traitor” is a biopic, well not exactly since it is “inspired” by the tale of Henrik Louis Hans von Kauffmann (Ulrich Thomsen), focuses almost equally on domestic melodrama as on political gamesmanship. The title character is considered a hero if you look backward from the present year but considered by the Danish government during World War II a traitor. Ordinarily a fellow who may represent only a small country but whose bravery catapults him to modern heroism would be too busy giving the middle finger to King Christian X to have time for a 51-year-old’s hanky-panky. But Kauffmann, married to Charlotte MacDougall (Denise Gough), is in love with Charlotte’s sister Zilla Sears (Zoë Tapper). The affair had been going on for years, leading to a melodramatic confrontation when Charlotte discovers the two kissing in the ample grounds of the Danish embassy in Washington.

Charlotte, however, has an important role to play, being an American, the daughter of U.S. Navy Rear Admiral William Dugald MacDougall, giving her a special “in” with President Franklin D. Roosevelt (Henry Goodman)– played with laid-back, aw-shucks behavior. While the war in Europe is raging, Henrik uses Charlotte’s influence with POTUS to help push a reluctant America into the war, noting that Hitler is not going to stop his conquests at the water’s edge. He wins the gold. Literally. He names himself the legal government rep of Denmark when he is merely its fired ambassador, which allows him to unlock the gold bars in New York’s Federal Reserve Bank to finance liberation activities in at least ten other Danish embassies including those in Iran and Egypt. He also has the chutzpah to sign away part of Denmark’s colony of Greenland to the U.S. for air force bases in perpetuity. It’s no wonder that the cowardly government in Copenhagen and a surprising number of pro-Nazi Danes consider Kauffmann an enemy of the state. History now judges the man a good traitor.

The film includes a meeting of FDR and Churchill (the latter looking more bloated than our previous U.S. president) in the presence of the Danish ambassador, who simply acts as though his firing never took place It reaches toward soap opera whenever Kauffmann, who has juice with the President for Pete’s sake, cannot get his wife to excuse his peccadilloes with her own sister. In defense of his extra-curricular recreation with Zilla, he reminds his wife that he loves Zilla’s… eyes. Who could resist? Who is so hardhearted not to excuse him, for the flesh is weak?

The movie makes no attempt to build up to a surprise conclusion that could be copied in a future horror movie by Dario Argento or Wes Craven or Eli Roth, giving us much of the final scene in the opening moments. This is a respectful projection of the crucial war years involving Kauffmann, and old-fashioned biopic complete with the beautiful ballads of the thirties and forties in America on the soundtrack. Jo Stafford’s “The Things We Did Last Summer” would have been most appropriate. Danish-born Christine Rosendahl, whose “The Idealist” deals with a nuclear disaster during the Cold War, is in the director’s seat.

The film is in English and in Danish with English subtitles.

115 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B

ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA – movie review

ESCAPE FROM PRETORIA
Entertainment One
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Francis Annan
Screenwriter: Francis Annan, L.H. Adams, Karol Griffiths, from Tim Jenkin’s book “Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison”
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Ian Hart, Daniel Webster
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 2/4/20
Opens: March 6, 2020

Whenever I need to have a key made I go to Bruno’s hardware down the block. Half the time the keys do not work. I twist and I turn and practically break the fragile metal. What this country needs is not more MBA’s but some good, reliable locksmiths. Now Tim Jenkin can make keys for me any time. He’s a real live character played by Daniel Radcliffe in the prison thriller “Escape from Pretoria.” He is not only a crackerjack locksmith but an author, having written the book by a similar name in 2005. I cannot tell whether Francis Annan’s movie is based closely on the contents of the book or simply inspired by the heroic plot—especially since on Amazon, the book costs $899.99. And that’s the paperback! Perhaps an upcoming movie about rare books “The Booksellers” would tell us why.

The film which is virtually bereft of women focuses on the leadership of Tim Jenkin (Daniel Radcliffe), who together with Stephen Lee (Daniel Webber) gets into trouble with white-dominated regime in South Africa when apartheid was the norm. Fifteen percent of the popular were white but dominated the 85% of people with color. The grip on the country was resisted by the African National Congress, under which Nelson Mandela eventually got elected president and now stands as one of history’s great heroes.

Some folks might be surprised to note that the ANC was a movement that enjoyed the membership of several white people, considered by the apartheid government to be traitors to their race. For example: when Jenkin and Lee set off an unusual string of “bombs” in Pretoria that liberate not explosives but reams of paper announcing the manifesto of the congress, they are caught and receive stiff sentences in a jail that was not quite as comfortable as the prisons in Norway. Jenkin gets 12 years as the leader, and his pal Lee receives eight. Inside the jail the two meet up with other whites involved in wresting the South African government away from the white leaders. These are people who from the moment they were beaten were determined to escape, notwithstanding the prospect of a sentence of another twenty-five years plus the potential to be tortured.

Theirs was a unique method. Jenkin, apparently graced with spatial skills, drew blueprints for not just one key but a successive battery of them that would lead them to the street and freedom. They keys were made of wood. As the plot thickens, the initial attempts to fit these keys into the doors would fail. Sometimes a piece of evidence would fall to the floor outside Jenkin’s reach, so we in the audience sit and hold out breaths as does Jenkin to hide the evidence from the regularly scheduled checks by the guards.

Guards were awfully mean, and not just the warden (Paul Harvey) who must be addressed as “Captain” by the inmates. They appear to hold a special animosity to whites who help the blacks.

All action takes place in 1979, but if the prisoners only had the patience to wait until 1994 when apartheid fell apart, Mandela would have freed all, a welcome break especially for Denis Goldberg (Ian Hart) who was serving four life sentences. Behind his large aviator type glasses fashionable at the time, Daniel Radcliffe is able to free himself without needing the magic he embraced at the Hogwarts School. He exudes a tension that should resonate with the movie audience in a film that’s not much on dialogue but which, guaranteed, will have you keyed up.

101 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B+

A HIDDEN LIFE – movie review

A HIDDEN LIFE
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Terrence Malick
Screenwriter: Terrence Malick
Cast: August Diehl, Valerie Pachner, Maria Simon, Tobias Moretti, Bruno, Ganz, Matthias Schoenaerts, Karin Neuhauser, Ulrich Matthes
Screened at: Park Ave., NYC, 10/9/19
Opens: December 13, 2019

A Hidden Life Movie Poster

In the novel “Middlemarch,” George Eliot praises those of us who do good without getting our fifteen minutes of fame: “…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Among directors who take this expression to heart and project to their audience the lives of such people, you can scarcely find one more qualified than Terrence Malick. The master of meditative movies is back with his best offering in eight years, having wowed his (admittedly) relative small audience with “The Tree of Life,” the story of a family in Waco, Texas in 1956 wherein an adolescent boy is conflicted by his mother and father’s opposing ideas of upbringing.

With “A Hidden Life,” Malick takes us back to the 1940s, focusing his lenses on a family of six on a farm in St Radegun, Austria (filmed on location), a vista of compelling beauty framed by the Alps, complete with trees that rustle in the wind and brooks that flow without impedance. In a story based on real events, Franz Jägestätter (August Diehl) lives with his wife Franziska Jägerstätter, his mother-in-law, and his three young daughters. Franziska appears to have influenced him to the wonders of religion, a loving woman who cannot embrace her husband enough, who joins in the fun of mock chases with the little girls. He will later prove that he did not remain a hidden life, for his momentous decision to refuse to swear loyalty to Hitler who had annexed Austria threatens to cost him his life. A conscientious objector who nonetheless reports to an induction center where he refuses to raise his arm in a salute to Hitler, he suffers the hostility of all members of his farming community outside of his family. He would be punched spit upon, lectured by the town mayor, and altogether ostracized by these simply Austrian fellows who ecstatically welcomes the Anschluss, or annexation of their country to Germany.

Much of the three hour presentation is bound to tax the patience of some in the audience who might not be aware of the types of movies that Malick regularly makes. In this case, though the people in the story are all German speaking, ninety percent of the dialogue is in English, and not so much the dialogue of the people but instead that of their narrated thoughts. During the first segment of the movie, some in the audience will be wondering: When will something happen? Instead we see the daily, monotonous, grinding work of the people, threshing without the aid of modern equipment, cutting the wheat with scythes and harvesting with the aid of a donkey and a cow. The writer-director gives us a splendid picture of what farming was like some eighty years ago, later to contrast that with the brutality of the Nazis given almost complete authority over their Austrian prisoners.

You can’t say that when the Germans heard of this “traitor” who refuses to fight for the fatherland, they just hoisted him up on the gallows. Several military officers did their best to get him to sign a loyalty oath and take his chances on fighting. There was even some expectation that he would be exempted as were some farmers. Even in the end, when condemned to death, Judge Lueben (Bruno Ganz), one of the elderly judges on the military court, counseled that his protest would not mean a thing; that it would not stop the war or hinder the war effort in the slightest. Franz would probably agree. Though he probably lacked much education, his ethical choice was influenced not by consequentialism (make your ethical choice by the results that would ensue), but more by deontology (do the right thing even if by consequence it did not matter).

Since the church declared him a martyr and later beatified him, and since Malick made a film about him, the German judge was obviously wrong. It’s not clear from “A Hidden Life” what was in Franz’s background that made him the only farmer to refuse to serve the Führer, but by the conclusion of the three hours, we have a solid picture of the daily, natural life of small-town farmers contrasted with the brutality of the war effort. Diehl and Pachner anchor the film in their stirring roles, the latter showing how far a wife would go to stop her man from being a martyr, while Diehl demonstrates the absolute determination to resist.

This is a film that Malick fans will find irresistible.

180 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+

THE KING’S CHOICE – movie review

 

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    • THE KING’S CHOICE  (Kongens nei)

      Samuel Goldwyn Films
      Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
      Grade: B
      Director:  Erik Poppe
      Written by: Harald Rosenløw-Eeg, Jan Trygve Røyneland
      Cast: Jesper Christense, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Karl Markovics, Tuva Novotny, Katharine Schüttler
      Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/24/17
      Opens: September 22, 2017
      click for larger (if applicable)
      “The King’s Choice” turns out to be a perfectly respectable piece of historical cinema, one that would be particularly appreciated by its audience in Norway, just as “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo,” about America’s Doolittle raid on Japan, would inspire us here in the U.S.  To my knowledge this film is the only one that ever reached our shores dealing with a special patriotic segment of life during World War 2, namely the resistance to the Nazis when Hitler’s soldiers first sought capitulation from the Norwegian government, and then, failing that, proceeded to bomb the neutral country.  Norway was valued by Germany for its iron ore and its strategically long harbor.

      One may wonder, after watching the fervor of Norway’s king in refusing to capitulate whether he, and the cabinet whose votes he inspired, was worthwhile.  After all, anyone could see that the forces of Germany, a single country in Western Europe that conquered Czechoslovakia, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and France—some after great resistance and others by capitulation—was a force to be reckoned with.  But Norwegian King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen), an older man with a thick mustache, states to Curt Bräuer (Karl Markovics),  the German diplomat urging him to surrender and to save Norwegian lives, “Your own Führer said that a country that surrenders does not deserve to live.”

      Director Erik Poppe, whose “1,000 Times Good Night” about a war photographer whose husband no longer wants to abide by her dangerous profession, focuses on the king and the royal family.  Whisked out of Norway’s capital, Oslo, by train from the Eastern Railrway Station, he heads north, where he is given authority to rule the country for the rest of the war.  He meets the German envoy, whose strongly advises capitulation as the envoy sincerely wants to save Norwegian lives.  As the king meets with his cabinet, back home in Oslo, Vidkun Quisling has been set up by the Nazis as Norway’s traitorous prime minister, one not recognized by Haakon.  The king would later set up a government in exile in London, broadcasting patriotic messages and encouraging the resistance.

      Vivid battle scenes are not the point, which, instead, is to show the courage of the king. However, cinematographer John Christian Rosenlund does capture German aircraft regularly flying across Norway and occasionally dropping bombs. There is also a dramatic scene in which Norwegian soldiers fire open a German ship that were headed into Norwegian waters without waiting to see whether they are arriving as messengers of peace or whether they are the enemy.

      Though “The King’s Choice” educates us about an incident mostly forgotten by the current generation—just as the escape from Dunkirk gets celluloid about a special incident cheered by France—it is not in the same class as that expensive movie.  Yet in some ways it is even superior, as it tells the story in chronological patterns, which “Dunkirk” eschewed in favor of three chapter in disarrayed order.  “The King’s Choice” will probably be seen by people outside of Norway as a history lesson, less inspiring than major cinema like the far more expensive “Saving Private Ryan,” but it does earn its stars by being chosen as Norway’s Oscar candidate for movies opening in 2016.

      The film is in Norwegian, German, and a smidgen of English with English subtitles, the white letters often overwhelmed by the snows of April.

      Unrated.  133 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
      Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why