28 May 2008 | MartinHafer
Despite having its heart in the right place, this film could have used a re-write.
This is a film that seems very sincere in wanting to tell an interesting story from a man horribly damaged by the Holocaust, but unfortunately the film had a lot of problems with the plot and casting that interfered with it becoming a better and more memorable film.
Kirk Douglas was cast as a German-Jew who has just immigrated to Israel in 1949. Since WWII, we don't know what he's done or where he's been, but he was horribly abused in a concentration camp, so it isn't at all surprising he is emotionally fragile and suffers from a classic case of Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome. In some ways, Kirk was an excellent choice--he's Jewish and did amazingly well in his juggling routines. However, having him play a German named "Hans Muller" was silly, as he acted about as German as Mickey Mouse. Everyone but Kirk had a strong accent in the film--Kirk sounded like an American. Also, while I love his films, Mr. Douglas is NOT one of the more subtle actors in history and a few of his scenes where he struggles with the effects of PTSD were overdone--and were almost silly. And that is NOT something you want in a serious film about a very serious topic.
Aside from this casting problem (why didn't they just have Kirk play a man who was originally an American and he was living in Europe?), the other smaller problem about the film is that, at times, it tried a little too hard. Scenes from the kibbutz seemed a tad over-idealistic and lacked realism from time to time.
However, despite these serious flaws, the film still was engaging and had one of the earliest and best portrayals of PTSD on film. It's well worth seeing for mental health professionals and people interested in the early history of Israel, but others might find it tough sailing. An earnest and sincere failure that is still a decent time-passer.
My advice? See some other films about the Holocaust first--save this one for later if you are so inclined. Some great films about this era you might want to first watch are THE SHOP ON MAIN STREET (from Czechoslovakia), THE SEARCH, SCHINDLER'S LIST, LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and the TV mega-miniseries, WAR AND REMEMBRANCE. For early Israeli history (post-1948), try EXODUS--it's not perfect but is still far better than this film.