Tim Blake Nelson’s The Grey Zone may be the anti-Schindler’s List though its distanced approached to the Holocaust makes it every bit as problematic as Roberto Benigni’s feel-good comedy Life is Beautiful. The film tells the true story of the Auschwitz’s 12th Sonderkommando, a group of Jewish prisoners employed by the Nazis to exterminate their fellow Jews in exchange for special privileges. The film’s death sequences are disturbing yet Blake avoids rank sentiment; his matter-of-fact direction emphasizes the Sonderkommando’s sad acclimation to the everyday horrors at the camp. Hoping to stage a revolt against their captors, a group of men and women at Auschwitz II-Birkenau exchange information and explosive powder via corpses being shipped to the Number One Crematorium. Complicating matters is a young girl found alive inside the gas chamber; instead of throwing her into the crematorium, a small group of Hungarian Jews choose to save the half-conscious girl. This is the moral grey area the film occupies. Rosa (Natasha Lyonne) and Dina (an unrecognizable Mira Sorvino) choose to suffer rather than give up the location of their explosives. Their silence perpetuates the execution-style murders of their fellow inmates but more frightening than their deaths is the overwhelming notion that it’s better to die now rather than later. The Grey Zone is full of such heartbreaking acknowledgements and tender revelations, perhaps none more so than prisoner Hoffman’s (David Arquette) restoration of hope and his tearful exchange with a fellow prisoner as they await death. Sadly, Nelson’s staccato dialogue is a major distraction. The stylized, rapid-fire exchanges between characters undermine the film’s humanity, so much so that the The Grey Zone begins to resemble a Holocaust espionage thriller by way of David Mamet. You can almost hear the gears of Blake’s moral mechanism churning as character’s spit out their maxims.
- Lions Gate Films
- 108 min
- Tim Blake Nelson
- Tim Blake Nelson
- David Arquette, Daniel Benzali, Steve Buscemi, David Chandler, Allan Corduner, Harvey Keitel, Natasha Lyonne, Mira Sorvino
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