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October 2002                                                SITE MAP   SEARCH
cast: Hank Azaria, David Schwimmer, Jon Voight, Donald Sutherland, and Leelee Sobieski

director: Jon Avnet

153 minutes (12) 2001, aspect ratio 1.66:1
Warner VHS rental and retail
Also available to rent or buy on DVD

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Emma French
When a film selects Nazi atrocities as its subject matter then the necessity of effective storytelling is far greater than usual. Based on the appalling true story of the uprising in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw from 1942-43, director Jon Avnet's opening scenes do not bode well. Poorly shot and edited, the NBC Special certainly has the look of a TV movie rather than a war epic, and the introduction of multiple characters and plotlines is confusing. The decision to have the actors speak in Polish accents is an error of judgement that fades into the background but never quite disappears as a distraction throughout the film. Though scene-setting is crucial, as is the need to indicate the normality of life in the Jewish quarter of Warsaw before the Nazi occupation, children scrumping tomatoes, chiding grandmas making bread and men playing violins create a corny Yiddish theme park atmosphere.
   Fortunately as the action develops and the resistance begins to form itself, the film rapidly becomes compelling and moving. Many moments in this film make for disturbing and uncomfortable viewing, and all the more poignant for their basis in fact. Much of the power of some moments arises from the disjunction between the celebrity personae of the actors and the roles they play in Uprising: watching a blood-spattered Ross (David Schwimmer) from Friends beat a Nazi officer to death somehow brings home the sense of a world turned upside down, and a community whose core values have been fatally compromised.
   The acting achievement is mixed, though there is no lead actor burden placed on anyone in a Hollywood B-list ensemble cast. Donald Sutherland adopts a variety of rather irritating ticks as the leader of the Jewish council, Adam Czerniakow, and many of the supporting Nazi officers opt for a stereotyped slavering sadist approach. Sadie Frost, a perennially poor actress, delivers a mercifully muted performance in comparison to her nightmarishly shrill appearance in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Hank Azaria is a revelation as resistance leader Mordechai Anielewicz, revealing not only real screen presence and versatility but an extraordinarily toned and attractive physique. His vocal talents on The Simpsons should not deter him from revealing his corporeal screen assets in future. Like Enigma, one of this film's strengths is its ability to focus on the most individual and often mundane activities of the besieged community but also upon the macro implications of their actions. The manner in which plans of the concentration camps are smuggled out eventually to reach Churchill in Britain is a tribute to human ingenuity and selflessness.
   The simple text inserts at the end are quietly devastating; describing the often dreadful fates that awaited the real-life characters the film is based on after the credits rolled. This film is well suited to the small screen, as its production values and ambition naturally do not match those of Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan. Though much leaves a bleak impression of human nature, it is also uplifting and a suitable homage to the all too few survivors. The quality of this production places it on a par with other equally welcome quality TV dramas such as Out Of Control and Christopher Eccleston's Othello.

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