‘The Exception’ Review: Jai Courtney Plays a Nice Nazi | TIFF 2016
The Exception is a film that occupies space. It’s film festival filler, carrying an air of prestige and name actors taking part in a Very Important Story, but it can’t hide that it’s ultimately a gigantic waste of time. It has the seed of an interesting idea by focusing on an fallen monarch living in exile, but it lacks confidence in its strongest aspect so it retreats to a maudlin love story that tries to paint its Nazi hero as kind of an alright guy who’s suppose to engender our sympathies because he fights for his country rather than national socialism. Unfortunately, when you have sentient pile of wood Jai Courtney as your lead, you can’t really count on him to carry your film.
Set in 1940, Nazi Capt. Stefan Brandt (Courtney) is sent to Holland to serve as bodyguard to the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer). However, his true mission is to spy on Germany’s former emperor and report back to the Gestapo. While staying with the Kaiser, Stefan begins a sexual affair with servant Mieke de Jong (Lily James), a Jew who’s secretly working as a spy for the British government. The story then proceeds along two tracks—Wilhelm and his wife (Janet McTeer) trying to figure out how to return to the throne in Hitler’s Germany, and the budding romance between Stefan and Mieke.
The storyline involving the Kaiser is so much stronger that it’s baffling why the filmmakers would even bother with a love story involving other characters in the first place. Wilhelm’s story has all the makings of a great narrative. He’s a leader in exile, a monarch desperate to return to the throne, but it would be for a country he no longer recognizes. He longs for days past, and the story could have played into his growing realization that the modern world (and especially Hitler’s Germany) has no place for him. Plummer is more than capable of playing that emotional range, and it would have been nice to see the film invest in that journey.
Instead, the movie jumps between Wilhelm, who is largely depicted as an unfortunate, good-natured, sweet old man, and its “hero” Stefan, who Mieke says is “the exception” to the rule that Nazis are terrible. This puts the film in the awkward position of diminishing its more fascinating figure in the background and focusing on the largely uninteresting Stefan.
Except the movie doesn’t take this time to give Stefan shading or make him an interesting character. There’s never a moment of doubt that when push comes to shove, he’ll support Mieke. There’s no scene where we get an understanding of why Stefan is so loyal to his country. We don’t get into the mentality of an individual who saw that the SS murdered innocent people and decides to keep wearing the uniform anyway. Rather than making Stefan look complex or paradoxical, he comes off as an oblivious hypocrite, a man who does the right thing because his morality is disconnected from his profession.
There’s nothing exceptional or even noteworthy about The Exception. It’s a film that didn’t even have much of a premise to live up to, and even there it falls remarkably short since we know how Stefan and Mieke are going to behave. The Exception is devoid of surprises, intensity, ingenuity, or anything else that would make it worth someone’s time.
The Exception does not currently have a U.S. release date.
To catch up on all of our TIFF 2016 coverage thus far click here, or peruse our list of reviews below:
- American Pastoral
- The Bad Batch
- The Birth of a Nation
- Blair Witch
- The Bleeder
- City of Tiny Lights
- Deepwater Horizon
- Free Fire
- The Handmaiden
- The Limehouse Golem
- The Magnificent Seven
- Manchester by the Sea
- A Monster Calls
- Nocturnal Animals
- The Promise
- Strange Weather
- Their Finest
- Trespass Against Us
- A United Kingdom
- Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey