The Exception


Christopher Plummer is resplendent as Kaiser Wilhelm II

(2016) Historical Drama (A24) Jai Courtney, Lily James, Christopher Plummer, Janet McTeer, Ben Daniels, Mark Dexter, Kris Cuppens, Eddie Marsan, Anton Lesser, Aubeline Barbieux, Lois van Wijk, Stephanie Auberghen, Martin Swabey, Lucas Tavernier, Kurt Standaert, Martin Savage, Karen Leclercq, Frederik Lebeer, Stephanie Van Vyve, Daisy Bouliton, Verona Verbakel. Directed by David Leveaux

As the First World War drew to a close, it became painfully obvious to the German people and to those in power that their Emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II had failed them as a wartime ruler and he was quietly forced to abdicate and fled the country for a life in rural Holland in a place called Huize Doorn. There he remained in exile for the remainder of his life, surrounded by a few loyal former military men, Dutch servants and his devoted second wife Hermine.

It is 1940 and the Second World War is in full swing. Germany is ruled now by the Nazi party and their military victories have been startling in their speed and ferocity. The former Kaiser (Plummer) keeps abreast of these with keen interest, expressing admiration for Hitler although not for the party. The Nazis get wind that there is a British spy operating in the area so they dispatch Captain Stefan Brandt (Courtney) to take command of the Kaiser’s personal guard.

He is assisted by Dietrich (Dexter), an SS officer who informs Brandt that transmissions had been intercepted by the SS and that all they needed to pin down the location of the transmissions was a truck able to triangulate the signal and pin down its location. He assures Brandt that one is on the way.

Brandt – who was wounded in the invasion of Poland – is something of a ladies’ man and his eye falls on the comely made Mieke (James). The two begin a torrid affair which is forbidden; discovery could get Lily fired and Brandt sent back to combat duty. Both of them are what you’d call damaged goods with horrors in their past; not exactly an easy place to build a relationship from.

When the announcement that Nazi bigwig Heinrich Himmler (Marsan) will be visiting, the entire household is in a tizzy. Hermine is certain that this means her husband will be summoned back to Berlin to take his rightful place in a restored monarchy (delusion can be beautiful in its own way). The Kaiser believes it too – but Himmler has other plans.

As the search for the spy begins to close the noose, Brandt begins to suspect that Mieke might be involved. He will have to choose between his love for her and his duty to his country. Given what his country has become that might not be a very hard choice at all.

This is a fictionalized account of the Kaiser in his final year of life and pretty much the history that it gets right is that there was a man named Wilhelm who was once Kaiser of Germany. Most of the rest is fiction so if you’re going to this movie thinking you’re going to get a history lesson, think again. The saving grace here is that Plummer inhabits the role so well, capturing Wilhelm’s ego and Prussian love for pomp but also the decent fellow that lay just beneath although most accounts of the Kaiser don’t reveal a whole lot of regard for anyone other than himself. Plummer however is just so magnetic that you can’t help but enjoy the performance even knowing it’s a bit of a sham.

Courtney has much of the burden for the film as he’s really the centerpiece (the title refers to him rather than the Kaiser) and that’s maybe not such a good thing. There are some things that Courtney does really well – he was one of the bright spots of Suicide Squad I thought – but this really isn’t the type of role that’s in his comfort zone and you can tell because his performance is far from assured. Part of the issue is that Courtney doesn’t really excel at expressing emotion non-verbally and we don’t get a sense of the struggle going on within the character; we just see him get into a situation where he’s having sex with a beautiful woman and we just assume it blossoms into love but the process is never apparent so when it comes time for him to choose between love and country we never get a sense that it is a struggle for him.

It also must be said that Courtney is far too buff for his role. We see him naked quite a bit and unfortunately Courtney had just finished filming Suicide Squad when he started up with this and he still had an action hero’s body which really doesn’t jive with a German officer’s body during World War II. There wasn’t a lot of pumping iron going on at that time.

There are some other things as well. The dialogue is occasionally clunky and even some of these seasoned performers deliver it like “this isn’t how people talk; how the hell am I supposed to say this?” is bouncing around their brain pan. The movie looks a bit stage-y in places which isn’t surprising since Leveaux has a Broadway background. Be assured though that the pluses outnumber the minuses by a comfortable margin. Plummer alone should be reason enough to make a point of seeing this. And quite frankly, the ending has a kind of grace to it that is all too rare in motion pictures. I won’t give you much detail on that score other than to say the ending does elevate the film.

 

So this is a strong recommend. It’s still playing in a few cities here and there (Orlando is one of them as of this writing) but if it isn’t anywhere near you or it’s been and gone, do check it out on VOD (Amazon Prime subscribers can see it for free). This isn’t going to be one of the best movies of the year but it’s better than the majority have been and will be – even if it is as fake as a three-dollar bill.

REASONS TO GO: Christopher Plummer is on a hot streak. The final scene is a nice touch.
REASONS TO STAY: Some of the dialogue is a bit clunky.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of profanity, some nudity and plenty of sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Some of the filming took place at the Kaiser’s actual home at Huize Doorn.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/1/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Anthropoid
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: The Commune

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New Releases for the Week of July 28, 2017


ATOMIC BLONDE

(Focus) Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, Eddie Marsan, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Til Schweiger, Barbara Sukowa, James Faulkner. Directed by David Leitch

The most lethal assassin in MI6 is sent on assignment to Berlin to smuggle a dossier out of the city which has been destabilized by opposing forces. In a simmering cauldron of betrayal and murder, she is allied with the embedded station chief to navigate the back alleys and halls of power to get what Her Majesty’s government requires of her. She soon realizes that she has been betrayed from within and you know what they say hell hath no fury like. This is based on the Oni Press graphic novel The Coldest City.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, B-roll video and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for sequences of strong violence, language throughout and some sexuality/nudity)

A Ghost Story

(A24) Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Kesha Sebert, Will Oldham. Recently deceased, a ghost – complete with white sheet – haunts his beloved home while silently observing his grief-stricken wife. He is also able to see other inhabitants of the house both past and present. The latest film from director David Lowery has gotten much acclaim on the festival circuit.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for brief language and a disturbing image)

The Emoji Movie

(Columbia) Starring the voices of T.J. Miller, James Corden, Anna Faris, Patrick Stewart. Deep in the heart of your smart phone lies a place called Textopolis where all your favorite emojis live. Each one of them has but one facial expression – except for poor Gene who has many. Wanting to be normal, he and his friends Hi-Five and Jailbreak search the phone and all its apps to find the code that will fix Gene. When unwittingly they discover a greater danger threatening the entire phone, the resourceful emojis will have to use all their skills to keep the emojis from being deleted for good.

See the trailer, a featurette and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for rude humor)

The Exception

(A24) Christopher Plummer, Jai Courtney, Lily James, Janet McTeer. As the Second World War looms, Kaiser Wilhelm II lives in exile in the Netherlands. A German soldier is assigned to determine whether the Dutch resistance has a spy or spies in the former ruler’s household. In the course of his investigation he falls for a Dutch Jewish girl who may or may not be the droid he’s looking for.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for sexuality, graphic nudity, language and brief violence)

OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Manifesto
Mubarakan
Vikram Vedha

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI:

13 Minutes
A Family Man
Imperfections
Lady Macbeth
Landline
Mubarakan
My Father’s Land
My Journey Through French Cinema
Vikram Vedha
Wolf Warrior 2

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA:

A Family Man
The Black Prince
Imperfections
The Last Face
Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back
Mubarakan

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE:

I, Daniel Blake
Mubarakan
Vikram Vedha

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Ghost Story
Atomic Blonde
The Emoji Movie
The Exception
Lady Macbeth
Landline