Volume 75, Number 22 | October 19 - 22, 2005
Koch On Film
By Ed Koch
Before the Fall (+)
In 1942, 17-year-old Friedrich (Max Riemelt) shovels coal for a living in a Berlin factory. He is an amateur boxer and serendipitously meets a Nazi officer who urges him to apply for admission to an elite cadet school in which the Nazi officer teaches boxing. Friedrichs father is anti-Nazi and against it, but Friedrich runs away from home and joins the academy.
The young man is thrust into a military academy environment where racial animus and anti-Semitism are taught daily. Other interactions amongst the cadets, including the punishment of a cadet bed wetter who wakes with a wet mattress each morning, are unsettling. One of Friedrichs roommates and close friends at the school is Albrecht (Tom Schilling), the son of a Nazi bigwig, (Justis Von Dohnanyi), who views his son as a weakling because he writes poetry.
The acting is superb as is the attention to detail. As I watched these young men, occasionally forced to engage in barbarous conduct, but often conducting themselves as adolescents will everywhere, I knew the movie audience could be sympathetic towards them even though they were becoming Nazis with an absolute devotion to Adolf Hitler. The appeal of Nazi uniforms and ceremony are still attractive to young adults everywhere, and Nazi-supporting skinheads are increasing in numbers in Germany today. This is a worthwhile film for adults to see, but impressionable youngsters should be accompanied by an adult who can fill in the gaps about the Holocaust and the killing of Poles and Russians whom the Nazis viewed as inferior races. Clearly the Nazis were monsters, but even monsters can be made appealing in the hands of a first-rate director like Dennis Gansel, just as Leni Riefenstahl, in her documentary, Triumph of the Will, showed what an evil genius can really do with film.
This film is a tour de force by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I never met Truman Capote, but from all the interviews I saw of him on television, Hoffman totally captured his personality, voice and mannerisms.
The movie is limited to Capotes writing of In Cold Blood, a book about the murders of a Kansas farm family. Perry Smith (Clifton Collins Jr.) and Richard Hickock (Mark Pellegrino) broke into a farmhouse in Holcomb, Kansas, in search of $10,000 they were told by a vagrant was in the homes safe. When they realize they were misled by the drifter, they proceeded to brutally murder the four family members and escape with no more than $40 or $50 dollars.
After Smith and Hickock are apprehended, Capote decides to write a book about the murders. His longtime friend, Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener), who wrote the classic To Kill A Mockingbird, is hired to accompany him on his trips to Kansas to help with the research. Keener does an excellent job of conveying her characters complete understanding of Capotes pettiness.
Truman was not a nice guy. He was mean and abused his friends. Nevertheless, he was a compelling and interesting figure in the social circles in which he traveled, so much so that those circles willingly moved around him, perhaps like moths to the flame. The movie does not make any effort to convey the relationship between Capote and his lover, Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood). More movies remain to be made of Capote involving his many relationships. In the meanwhile, if you dont set your bar too high, this movie will suffice for the time being.
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