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August 2014

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| Reel World


'Walking with the Enemy' reveals another Holocaust hero

It seems that Hollywood has an inexhaustible supply of World War II and Holocaust backdrops for movies.

In recent months alone we have "The Book Thief" and "Monuments Men" that are set in that era.

While those movies didn't have clear-cut heroes, the most recent entry into the genre, "Walking with the Enemy," does. Several, actually.

The movie, based on a true story, has as its main character a young Jewish man named Elek (Jonas Armstrong), the son of a rabbi.

The movie's bookends depict happy times: young people dancing to big band music in Budapest at the start, in 1944, and a wedding in New York City at the end, around 1957.

But there is little joy between in scenes that are all too familiar.

Elek is living in Budapest, Hungary, in 1944, enjoying life and his work in a radio repair shop when the Nazis descend on the city and he is forced to go to a labor camp. He escapes the brutality of the camp and returns to his devastated hometown only to find his home has been destroyed, and his family is nowhere in sight.

In Budapest he finds the radio shop abandoned, as Jewish shops have been emptied and destroyed. He reunites with Hannah, whom he met at the dance at the start of the movie. He also gets a job through her uncle, who works at The Glass House, an old glass factory that has been turned into a print shop for Swiss protective documents for Jews. The documents, which spare Jews from being sent off to death camps, were originally meant just for Jews with Swiss ties, but when the scope of the Nazi intrusion becomes evident, they are delivered to many more Jews.

Elek becomes part of the Jewish underground movement that delivers these documents. When Budapest is taken over by the Nazis, thousands of Jews are also able to take refuge in The Glass House.

Elek obtains the uniform of an SS officer and infiltrates Nazi ranks to save hundreds of Jews, intervening on killings and diverting Jews to safe ground. He does this by mimicking the intimidation tactics he's seen employed by Nazis and Nazi sympathizers.

The film has many heroes, including Elek and his cohorts; Carl Lutz, the founder of The Glass House; nuns and priests who sheltered Jews; and a Nazi officer in Budapest who was sympathetic to the Jews.

At the start, the movie looks like a love story between Anna and Elek. But, as the country they once knew becomes embroiled in fascism and anti-Semitism, the cast increases to include Nazi heavies, like Adolf Eichmann, and those fighting to maintain the old Hungary, like the regent Miklos Horthy (yet another fine performance by the versatile Ben Kingsley).

The years, locations and characters are explained in subtitles, which helps clarify the scenarios but also cheapens the film. The scenes are realistic enough, though they seldom reach the sort of horrifying impact of movies like "Schindler's List," and the movie never reaches any emotional peaks.

While we get to see Elek's passion in risking his life for his people, he and others aren't fleshed out enough, partly due to some rather generic dialogue and too wide of a scope. When Hannah asks him, "Why are you doing this?" (risking his life), Elek replies with the hero's cliche: "I'm just doing what anyone would do."

That paint-by-numbers approach keeps "Walking with the Enemy" from moving up in the ranks of World War II/Holocaust films.

Grade: B

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