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The Exception - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Exception
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

There's a curious thing about The Exception, its very title referencing the idea of a particular soldier being that very thing in relation to his massively inhumane compatriots. The character in question is Capt. Stefan Brandt, played competently by Jai Courtney; he has been sent to the home of World War II-era Kaiser Wilhelm, the last German emperor, exiled in Holland since the defeat of Germany in the first World War. Brandt is sent ostensibly to protect Wilhelm, but is also asked, quite literally, to spy on him.

Wilhelm is played by the reliably fantastic Christopher Plummer, who is himself reason enough to see this film. He can't be faulted for the slight flaw in the script, which ultimately paints Wilhelm not just as a sympathetic character, but one sympathetic to Jews. This is rather implausible, especially considering his own fervent anti-Semitism is a matter of historical record. He does express disdain for the Jews here, but evidently finds a line he cannot cross when Heinrich Himmler visits as a guest and calmly relates what horrors are just begun to be perpetrated on Jewish children. Is this supposed to make us like Wilhelm more?

It's kind of hard not to, with Plummer playing him, and therein lies the discomfort. I suppose it could be argued that The Excpetion is playing a bit less severe revisionist history than that of Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, in which Hitler himself gets assassinated. Here, we get a Kaiser Wilhelm who is a good guy. I just can't decide whether that's a good thing. It doesn't quite sit well.

Brandt, for his part, feels remorse about his involvement in an army that he witnessed first hand slaughtering Polish Jews. And when he falls in love with one of the maids in Wilhelm's home, Mieke (Lily James), he makes no protest when she reveals herself to be a Jew. Even their first meeting is odd: he invites her into his room, then immediately tells her to take her clothes off. She does it so readily that at first I thought they must already know each other -- but, nope. There are many ways to rationalize this scene when seen in context, mind you; and there's a later, somewhat refreshing scene in which she turns the tables on him in the same way.

That said, I spent a fair amount of time wondering why the focus on Brandt and Mieke's love story. It actually comes together eventually and makes sense, thanks to a script that is surprisingly well constructed, given its aforementioned flaws. The plot is always compelling, and the performances even more so. Brandt learns he is also there to investigate a Dutch spy they believe to be in the household, and if the related turn of events is hardly shocking, neither is it dull.

Perhaps more importantly, The Exception is a fascinating and unusual look into discord among the ranks of Nazi Germany -- people with very different views on morals and tactics, essentially brought together by their shared hatred of Jewish people, or so they think. The Nazi leadership resents Wilhelm for his inability to bring Germany to victory during the first World War, which puts Wilhelm in an awkward and frustrating position -- a man with just as much loathing for the regime that ousted him as he has hope and dreams of them inviting him back to the throne. The simpler story at the heart of The Exception takes place with this political backdrop.

It just maybe grants an exaggerated sympathy for some people who were probably much more horrible than this movie actually lets on.

Ben Daniels, Christopher Plummer and Jai Courtney all fancy themselves THE EXCEPTION.

Overall: B
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