Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke, Alexander Skarsgård
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Those who want romance aren’t likely to vibe with the walking billboards offered here, those who want period drama will be aghast at the apathy behind it, and those who like to think about a film’s ideas will likely be giving more thought to them than the filmmakers themselves.
What’s worse than a bad idea? A good idea presented badly. And the idea at the heart of director James Kent’s (The Testament Of Youth) latest is indeed a good one: Re-examining the culpability of the parties involved in World War II, using a love triangle as a proxy for the strained relations between Britain and Germany after the war. As personified by Jason Clarke’s British colonel, we get glimpses of a darker aspect of the Allies’ involvement in the fight, one that shows their hands aren’t clean.
It’s not something that often comes up, this Satoshi Kon-esque pointing-of-fingers at post-war culture, and it could have made for an interesting flick. Unfortunately, nothing here carries the same venomous accuracy as something like Paranoia Agent, and that blind aim dooms the movie.
The execution, which ultimately means far more than the intentions behind it, cannot pick a single tone to go with. We go straight from grime-coated interrogation scenes that depict not killing one’s self as the cowardly thing to do, right into a snowball fight between Keira Knightley and a turtleneck-sweater-wearing Alexander Skarsgård that looks like something out of a Hallmark production.
It is frankly baffling how aloof this film can get about its own subject matter, always one rendition of ‘Springtime for Churchill’ away from becoming a total farce. It doesn’t help that the displays of prejudice here are about as subtle as a Mel Brooks production too, except this isn’t meant to be funny.
But ultimately, the biggest problem is with the love triangle itself, even ignoring its place as a vehicle for the film’s grander point. It’s not just that all three people involved are unlikable, which they definitely are in their own ways, but it’s that the circumstances that push the romance forward are incredibly forced. There isn’t nearly enough chemistry between any of them to make the jarring turns into trysting the night away feel like they’re worth your investment. Then again, when the literal furniture has more personality than the people struggling to sit on it, engagement is probably too much to ask for.
And we haven’t even gotten to the sheer drabness of this production, where it feels like we’re being subjected to white noise with the occasional glimpse of grounded terror just to claim that something is happening. But even when we get to the end of this affair, nothing even comes of it. It spends so long trying to insist it has a point, only to completely fumble the landing and make this whole exercise feel even more wasteful.
This is a situation where nobody wins. Those who want romance aren’t likely to vibe with the walking billboards offered here, those who want period drama will be aghast at the apathy behind it, and those who like to think about a film’s ideas will likely be giving more thought to them than the filmmakers themselves. It’s a mess.