Review Date: August 30, 2002
Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Werner Herzog
Producers: Werner Herzog, Gary Bart
Jouko Ahola as Zishe Breitbart
Tim Roth as Jan Hanussen
Anna Gourari as Marta
Based on a true story, these are the events which lead a Jewish blacksmith from Poland into Germany during the Nazi's rise to the top. The man, known to be extremely strong, becomes a big star in the big city while hiding his faith from everyone, as numerous politicians and party members come to see his show. Ultimately, the country's anti-Semitic sentiment grows larger and the muscleman is caught somewhere in the middle.
Other than the horrible dialogue, the stilted acting and some overly melodramatic bits, I actually remained interested in this film most of the way because the story itself was based on true events and I was captivated by how this one dude went from being a small town blacksmith to entertainer of the Nazis. Of course, I've always been intrigued by any film that provides more insight into the horror that were the Nazi scum, and this flick does offer a little more background on that as well. The anti-Semitism is just starting here, and it's interesting to see how it all plays out, especially in relation to the lead man, who pretends not to be Jewish, but ultimately has to make a tough decision. The problem with the movie, and anyone who can't see it must be blind (including the director...what the hell was he thinking?), is that its lead actor, Jouko Ahola, the real-life Finnish world champion "strong man" and non-actor, stinks up the joint. The man looks, speaks and acts as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger on his best day, but unfortunately he's in a serious drama! If wood came to life and started to act...it would be this man. It's really unfortunate because he's playing a character who has since become a legend of sorts in the Jewish community, but the guy barely musters an emotion throughout the entire film, and actually comes off like a "dumb guy" most of the time. One particular reunion scene between him and his kid brother, who adores him more than the world, is weak, empty and as emotionless as you can imagine. I don't blame the actor per se, but the casting folk and director are definitely responsible. Where's the emotion, dude??
I know that it's difficult to fill a bill for a "strong man" who can also competently act, but in the case of this movie...I really do believe that it would have been wiser to wait until the right person came along. The film also appears to be dubbed (although I'm not 100% on this), so some of the voices didn't gel with the characters either. Ahola's little brother's voice felt especially odd and out of place (or maybe the kid was just a bad actor). Thankfully for us, Tim Roth also has a spot in the film and his usual smarmy acting is appreciated, as well as his character's own path throughout. Heck, even Udo Kier rocks the house in his usual bizarre way. And as much as the lead actor sucked in conveying any emotion, the man did emit some charisma (a la Arnie) and even a tiny bit of romance with the lead chick. Ultimately, you shouldn't see this film for its lame dialogue ("I am who I am"-yeesh, what is this...Popeye??), cheesy moments (why on earth was that woman so over-the-top when playing the piano?) or bad acting bits, but you should check it out if this historical event interests you, because enough background and development is detailed for you to appreciate this one man's journey through 1930s Germany. The sets and authenticity of the time are also well established, so I'm really quite mixed about this picture overall. Some elements of it really blow the big one, but other parts are decent. If interested, see it but bring along some major reservations.
(c) 2016 Berge Garabedian