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Posted on 6/25/10 04:02 PM
The Counterfeiters is a genre film. To the extent that one accepts the notion that there is a subgenre that could be known as "the concentration camp film", this film carries many of the generic traits one would expect from them, including vicious Nazi guards, scenes of the brutal killing of the Jews over which they preside, and strength among the prisoners even in the face of abject horror. Indeed, the film uses these generic codes and conventions to exert a sort of cinematic shorthand, never really explaining the situations involved, assuming that the viewer is responsive to the visual tip-offs it is providing. For the most part, it works, and affords the film more time to devote to the story itself. What makes this film stand out is the depth it affords some of its heroes. The depictions here, at least of the Jewish characters, is not content to simply provide stereotypes of suffering martyrdom, instead posing tough moral questions such as "what if someone is asked to do the wrong thing" in order to survive.
Our hero, Sally, is a master counterfeiter. He has excelled in deception, and that is what ultimately provides him with a more comfortable position than the vast majority of the Jews in the camps. The issue becomes, in an ironic twist, whether Sally should feel guilty for his privileged position as it relates to the others in places like Auschwitz. His character is afforded much depth in the screenplay and through a fantastic, understated performance by Karl Marcovics. The problem arises, however, with the Nazi characters. This genre has a history of using caricature to depict the Nazis, and while there may be a tad more depth afforded these Nazis than many of the others in the past, they still ultimately become shallow representations of evil. Whereas a film like The Pianist dares to posit that Nazi soldiers were feeling, sane, human beings that understood and regretted the moral implications of the horrific orders they were charged with carrying out, The Counterfeiters occasionally resorts to the time-tested practice of portraying them as two-dimensional monsters who have developed the ability to achieve a sort of psycho-sexual release from torturing and murdering the Jews. With the character of Herzog, the Nazi who is in charge of the counterfeiting operation, we get as close as we ever do in the film to a fully developed Nazi character. However, he is ultimately relegated to being a bully who is transformed into a whimpering fool when he is unarmed (and emasculated) by Sally. Holst, a Nazi guard, is an even more shallow caricature. He is a snarling, violent thug, and wants nothing more than to exterminate every Jewish prisoner he can find an excuse to murder. Even Kurtz in Apocalypse Now said of the enemy, "these are men who have families, who have children, who are filled with love...these are not monsters". If this particular film seizes the opportunity to portray the conflicted moral condition of privileged Jewish prisoners, then it misses the opportunity to explore the conflicted moral state of the Nazi soldiers who carried out acts that obviously violated every definition of what is right. While still a fairly effective twist on the concentration camp genre (and the crime genre for that matter), the film ultimately falls short of its own potential.
Posted on 6/25/10 03:02 PM
The Mist is a B-movie. It is a rehashed, microwave heated leftover of films like John Carpenter's The Thing, Night of the Living Dead, and the adaptation of Stephen King's own Children of the Corn. Cinematically, there is virtually no redeeming quality about the film. The special effects are a snooze-fest. The plot is as tired as the tread on a '57 Chevy that's been sitting in a junk yard for ten years. I loved almost every minute of it.
The beauty of a scenario like aliens invading, the end of days, or any other apocalyptic event is that it liberates the film from requirements like feasibility and allows it to become a platform for commentary on the human race. Indeed, is Night of the Living Dead a film about how horrible zombies are or how horrible people are? Such is the case with this film. With a brewing war between the empirical, "Godless" clan and the cult led by a fundamentalist, Revelations spouting lunatic played by Marcia Gay Hardin with manic energy worthy of airtime at 2:30 a.m. on Cinemax. The film is at its best when exploring this conflict. It's a real treat to soak in the low-rent methods director Frank Darabont borrows to flesh out this conflict, including canted framings directly borrowed from yet another Stephen King adaptation: Creepshow. It seems that these references, as well as images in a white locale with way too many lights shining through the mist strongly reminiscent of images from The Thing are entirely intentional. This film is just as much a celebration of these types of films as it is its own entity.
Much has been written, irresponsibly I believe, about the ending of this film. It has been called bold, shocking, even haunting. Note to critics: To say an ending is shocking is akin to giving away the ending. STOP! It's actually just not a "Hollywood" ending. This is the classic mark of the B-movie. Why would a studio care if a movie like this has a feel-good ending? It's not going to make any money anyway. The ending works because it clearly has not been tampered with by test audiences or over-zealous producers. The irony is that the very resolution that our hero desired is the one thing that finally destroys him. It's nifty. It's nihilistic. It's just plain cool.
The film could stand to lose some of its parts which just don't fit. The sequence in the loading dock where our hero clan talks philosophically about their situation, saying things like "People are basically good" and "Don't you have any faith in humanity?" Snip it. There are moments of heartfelt emoting. Snip it. They're just stopping this movie from being what it truly is: the first installment in a series of movies about a mercenary who lost his family during an apocalyptic event, and is now hunting down a cult of God-crazed killers who sacrifice human beings to appease the God they believe is punishing the Earth. He will ride a motorcycle. He will kill many, many mutants and giant insects. He will be afraid to be close to anyone ever again. He will be mad.
This is not a film. It's a movie. It's one of those movies that you go into expecting nothing, and leave yearning for the return of the drive-in theatre, and the types of movies that were shown at them. They were movies that didn't pretend to be poignant or even relevant, but oftentimes ended up saying more than Chariots of Fire and Ordinary People combined. They were movies with nothing but "yarbles".