"Walking with the Enemy" is an inspirational, dramatic, feel-good movie, based on the true story of WWII Nazi resister Pinchas Rosenbaum, a Hungarian Jew who posed as one of the enemy to save other Jews from the death camps.
The film shows a passion for its subject matter, although first-time director Mark Schmidt fictionalized the story and added scenes for dramatic effect. Ben Kingsley stars as Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy, but other cast members are unknowns. While the acting and production values are good and it features nice photography, there is a tendency to fall into clichés, in dialogue and how scenes are presented.
The story is told in a familiar Hollywood style — which some audiences relish and other don't — but Schmidt elevates it through his passion in telling the story.
In the film, Rosenbaum's character (given the name Elek Cohen in the film) is played by the handsome Jonas Armstrong. Ben Kingsley's Regent Horthy is a major figure in this film whose story is presented alongside Elek's to give the film historical context.
As war looms, Hungary is a country was caught between two larger powers, Nazi Germany and the communist Soviet Union. Hoping to pick the lesser of two evils, Horthy tried to stave off Nazi invasion and mollify the Arrow Cross, Hungary's home-grown fascist group, through an alliance with Germany, while still trying to protect Hungarian Jews.
When the Nazis invade anyway in 1944, Elek goes home to his village, where his rabbi father is unconvinced of the pending danger and refuses to take action to escape the Nazis. Elek and the village's other young men are sent to a work camp but he escapes. Returning home, he finds his family have been deported.
Because he speaks German, Elek has an edge when he returns to Budapest and manages to evade notice by the authorities. He reconnects with Hannah and her family, who have been moved to a designated "yellow star house." He and Hannah fall in love and they find a many allies in their efforts to survive and then to help other Jews do the same.
There is a strong interfaith and cross-cultural theme to this film. One of Hannah's school friends, now a nun, helps shelter orphaned children in a Catholic church. A priest supplies fake baptismal certificates to help Jews flee while posing as Christians. Elek and Hannah join forces with the Swiss consulate, housed in a old glass factory called the Glass House, where employees issue Swiss papers to any Jewish Hungarians with family connections in Switzerland, not matter how tenuous. They are soon both secretly distributing those papers to any Jewish family and sheltering them within the Glass House itself.
Elek's efforts take a riskier turn yet when he starts posing as an Nazi SS officer to disrupt deportation operations and save people, then sheltering them in a variety of places. He acquires an SS officer's uniform when he kills two officers when they try to rape Hannah.
The scene is very dramatic, even bordering on graphic, but is fictional. In truth, Rosenbaum acquired a uniform (in a less dramatic fashion) of the Hungarian pro-Nazi militia, the Arrow Cross.
In the film, Elek's steely nerve while posing as a Nazi SS officer, barking orders at Arrow Cross soldiers, and his remarkable luck, often stretch credibility but the dramatic effect is certainly powerful.
However, the film does try to keep the historical backdrop grounded in fact. The story involves several well-known Nazi figures such as Adolf Eichmann (Charles Hubbell) and Otto Skorzeny (Simon Kunz). These historical scenes often take on the tone of documentary recreations, which some may find off-putting. Kingsley plays Horthy as a hero in this film although the actual historical figure is considered more controversial.
Kingsley is fine in his supporting role and the largely unknown cast turn in good performances but there are no breakout, star-making performances.
"Walking with the Enemy" is a well-meaning if overly dramatized, inspirational film with a satisfying feel-good ending that will please its core audience. But the film's greatest strength is the remarkable true story behind it and the director's passion in telling it.
The film is being distributed by Allied Faith and Family, a company that focuses on inspirational films. It is now playing at Wehrenberg’s Des Peres 14 and Regal’s St. Louis Mills Stadium 18.