Friday, December 16, 2016

Chosen: Harvey Keitel’s War Story

If only the Warsaw Uprising had ended this happily. Although initially caught off guard, the National Socialists destroyed everything in their path to put down the insurrection, ultimately including the Great Synagogue. Still, there was nothing to lose and much to gain from their heroism. The Polish and Jewish resistance get the sort of victory they deserved in Jasmin Dizdar’s Chosen (trailer here), which starts its better-late-than-never release today in Southern California.

The old crusty grandfather will finally tell his beloved grandson Max about the tremendous courage he witnessed during WWII. He pretends to be discussing a fellow Jewish Hungarian named “Sonson,” but right from the start we can tell he is modestly describing his own exploits. Sonson (as we shall still refer to him) was a late recruit to the partisan cause, because he was preoccupied with his fragile wife’s safety. When the new Jewish exclusion laws demanded her eviction from the hospital, despite her recent cancer diagnosis, it sealed Sonson’s fate as well.

On her deathbed, he promises to find and rescue her sister Judith, a resistance fighter recently deported to Auschwitz. As a man of his word, Sonson sets off to Poland (hoofing it in eight days), where he joins up with the Warsaw Ghetto resistance, in hopes their contacts can turn up a lead on Judith. Naturally, he becomes an inspiring commander in the process.

If you can get past the historically dubious uplifting conclusion, Chosen is a pretty solid little war movie programmer. Essentially, it is like Defiance with less mud and grime or a stripped-down and more straight forward Inglorious Basterds. The warfighting scenes are surprisingly presentable for such a presumably low budget affair and a whole lot of National Socialists get killed, so there is a good deal of vicarious payback.

Granted, Luke Mably is not exactly a younger analog of Harvey Keitel, who plays his older self, but he has suitably slow-burning presence and decent action cred for the righteously driven Sonson. Keitel essentially phones in the Princess Bride narrative wrap-around, yet he is still intriguing to watch on screen. Emerging international Romanian star Ana Ularu (I’m an Old Communist Hag, The Paper Will Be Blue) plays Judith with grit and sensitivity. However, most of the rest of the resistance are largely armed extras.

Technically, the real Warsaw Ghetto Uprising ended on a downer note, but reportedly many of the survivors were deported to Treblinka, where they played key roles in a subsequent revolt at the concentration camp. Their story would make a heck of a movie. For what it’s worth, Chosen is not bad either, but it is still probably better suited for VOD (having already been released on multiple platforms) than a full adult theatrical ticket. Regardless, it opens today (12/16) at the Laemmle Town Center in Encino.