‘Walking With the Enemy’: Amazing war story becomes plodding film
By RICHARD ROEPER Movie Columnist April 24, 2014 2:46PM
A young Hungarian man (Jonas Armstrong) wears a stolen Nazi uniform in the waning months of World War II to help Jews to safe passage in “Walking With the Enemy.” | LIBERTY STUDIOS
WITH THE ENEMY’ ★★
Elek Cohen Jonas Armstrong
Hannah Schoen Hannah Tointon
Regent Horthy Ben Kingsley
Liberty Studios presents a film directed by Mark Schmidt and written by Kenny Golde. Running time: 123 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for war violence including crimes against humanity). Opens Friday at local theaters.
Updated: May 26, 2014 6:14AM
As earnest and heartfelt as a movie can be, “Walking With the Enemy” is, unfortunately, a plodding and clunky drama that never misses an opportunity to embrace a cliché.
Few movies have included so many scenes of a beloved character dying in the arms of a loved one or friend or colleague who’s doing some pretty serious overacting.
No disrespect to the fact-based origins of this story. Near the end of World War II, a Hungarian Jew named Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum donned the uniform of the Arrow Cross, a Hungarian fascist group that aligned with Hitler. Rosenbaum risked his life time and again as he would round up Jewish families, threatening to shoot them if they didn’t get into an Arrow Cross vehicle. Only after they reached their destination — a glass factory taken over by the Swiss government that had become a safe house — would Rosenbaum reveal his true identity. He was a true hero.
In the hands of director Mark Schmidt, “Walking With the Enemy” is sometimes tense and occasionally inspirational, but tediously paced (the running time is 123 minutes) and marred by a number of lackluster performances. It doesn’t help that the script is filled with clunky dialogue. (Ten writers share screenplay/story credit on the film. Imagine how many drafts that script went through.)
Jonas Armstrong gives a one-note performance as Elek Cohen, the character inspired by Rosenbaum. In this fictionalized re-telling, Cohen doesn’t merely purloin an Arrow Cross uniform; he wears a Nazi uniform taken off a dead German soldier and assumes the identity of the hated enemy in order to save lives. It’s a balancing act we never quite buy. Would so many German soldiers really buy Cohen’s act?
Cohen knows he faces instant execution if his true identity is revealed, and he escapes a number of close calls as he intervenes to reroute convoys and otherwise help Hungarian Jews to safe passage. On some occasions, there’s nothing Cohen can do as Nazis open fire on innocent men, women and children.
Hannah Tointon is Hannah Schoen, the obligatory beautiful girl with a heart of gold who falls in love with brave young Cohen. William Hope does fine work as Carl Lutz, a Swiss diplomat operating out of Budapest’s “Glass House,” the safe house that also prints documents offering the Swiss government’s protection to Hungarian Jews.
Meanwhile, in scenes that seem to be from an altogether different movie, Ben Kingsley’s Regent Horthy bravely stands up to the Germans who seem to storm into his office every hour on the hour. Kingsley is his typical magnificent self, conveying Regent Horthy’s anguish when he’s faced with ceding power or seeing his son executed.
As inspirational as this story is, “Walking With the Enemy” repeats itself to the point of dulling the edges of what should be an intense viewing experience. We get scene after scene after scene of the monstrous Nazis practically foaming at the mouth as they scream their hatred for the Jews, gunning them down in broad daylight. Yes, this really happened and should never be forgotten, but there’s little art in simply showing such horrors again and again. Schmidt’s direction is heavy-handed, and the actors portraying the various villains are unmemorable. (Think of Ralph Fiennes’ chillingly effective portrayal of the SS officer Amon Goeth in “Schindler’s List.” Fiennes was so good, he made it nearly impossible not to have a visceral reaction to the unspeakable atrocities committed by his character.)
It’s a shame this amazing true-life story was turned into a run-of-the-mill World War II film.