MRR Review: "Walking with the Enemy"

Photo Credit: Liberty Studios

Rating: PG-13
Length: 124 minutes
Release Date: April 25, 2014 (limited)
Directed by: Mark Schmidt
Genre: Action / Drama / History

"Walking with the Enemy" is a movie inspired by the true story of Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum. In the film, Elek – a character based on Rosenbaum – infiltrates the ranks of the Nazi forces in an effort to save his family and other Jews during the Holocaust. Although his plan works initially, his identity begins to be questioned, which puts his life in danger.

Plot Summary

In the opening scenes of "Walking with the Enemy," Elek Cohen – a Hungarian Jew – escapes from a labor camp he has been detained in. He returns to his home to find his family has been taken by Nazi officers and his home has been given to another family. Determined to find his family, Elek begins planning a trip to the Glass House, the name of an organization run by Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz that provides refuge to Jews who have escaped from labor camps.

Before he leaves, Elek sees two Nazi officers attempting to rape a woman. He acts quickly, killing the two officers and rescuing the woman - Hannah - who turns out to be someone Elek met before the German occupation. Inspired, Elek takes one of the dead officer's uniform before he travels with Hannah to the Glass House.

Hannah and Elek quickly begin to volunteer for the organization. However, as time passes, Elek begins to be frustrated that he is no closer to finding his family than when he first escaped from the labor camp. In a desperate attempt to find his family, Elek puts on the Nazi uniform and assumes the identity of a Nazi officer. The uniform allows Elek to attend Nazi meetings and learn where Jews are being held. Over time, Elek is able to lead several groups of Jews to safety under the guise of taking them to a new labor camp.

As Elek becomes more brazen, his actions begin to attract attention, and fellow Nazi officers begin to question his credentials and his motives. With suspicion mounting, Elek is forced to choose between finding his family and continuing to infiltrate the ranks of the Nazi forces, or going into hiding to save his own life.

In the first scenes of "Walking with the Enemy," Jonas Armstrong's performance is slightly stiff, but as the movie progresses, his performance improves markedly. Armstrong is essentially required to portray one set of characteristics when his character is in front of Nazi officers, but when his character is in the company of others working at the Glass House, his personality completely changes. In this sense, Armstrong plays two very different characters.

Hannah Tointon, who plays Hannah, also gives a great portrayal of her character. Her character serves the important purpose of offsetting the violence and the roughness of the various characters who play Nazi officers. William Hope and Ben Kingsley play supporting characters, but their performances are both very memorable.

Film Analysis

Director Mark Schmidt effectively balanced the content shown in "Walking with the Enemy." There are many scenes where Elek is forced to degrade and even hurt fellow Jews in an attempt to save their lives. However, his actions pale in comparison to the horrendous acts committed by several characters who play Nazi officers. While these scenes are at times graphic and difficult to watch, it is a necessary component of the film to show the true horrors of the time period the film is set in. However, Schmidt also dedicated a significant amount of screen time to the characters who forge documents and provide shelter to the Jews Elek rescues, which amounts to risking their own lives. In essence, the film dedicates equal attention to two very different groups working on either side of the war.

Although the film is in many ways historically accurate, some details were changed. For example, in real life, Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum stole an Arrow Cross uniform, which is the uniform of the Hungarian faction that was aligned with Hitler during World War II. In the movie though, Elek steals a Nazi officer uniform. This alteration of fact does not enhance the film in any way, so this kind of detail is better left unchanged, However, some changes to the true story, like the relationship between Elek and Hannah that was designed specifically for the film, adds a compelling subplot. The existence of their relationship allows Elek to expose some of his deeper emotions that are not apparent otherwise.

Ultimately, the plot is very compelling, as there are numerous scenes where Elek's identity is nearly uncovered. The film unfolds in such a way that the audience is left constantly on edge, which makes the film progress smoothly and quickly.

"Walking with the Enemy" sticks to the basic facts, but some elements of the true story the film is based on are changed. However, these changes mostly work to enhance the film rather than detract from the true story. Ultimately, the film is very suspenseful and enjoyable to watch from start to finish.