is brouhaha over some comments made by Harry Belafonte towards
Chief of Staff Colin Powell.
Basically, Belafonte said that Powell was no better than a
house slave, kowtowing to his masters in order to gain favor with
them. The Grey Zone
tells a little known, to most, story of the Sondderkommandos,
internment camp prisoners who gained special benefits and a
prolonged life in exchange for performing certain duties such as
escorting prisoners and assisting in the disposal of bodies.
These people could be considered an equivalent of house
slaves, since they had seemingly sold out their own kind in order
to prolong their preordained destiny.
At least the slaves were not leading their own to
from an award-winning Broadway play, the film sometimes shows its
origins in its staged delivery and ease of the dialogue.
However there is neither dilution nor ignorance of the
message and of the performances, especially from Arquette who
shows a new side of his repertoire. The film is not a happy one, nor a cheerful one, but it is
one that will stay with you, bother you, and cause you to look
inside yourself and consider if you would do the same.
If only Nelson could have shaken the stagy cobwebs from
things, and sharpened the delivery of the dialogue more, then this
one would have been a disturbingly memorable experience
There are unknown
numbers of horror stories that arise from the atrocities of the
Holocaust. Some of
these have been captured on film, others told in story, but
regardless of the source, they are painful to watch and hear. As an initial introduction to this story, I was disturbed at
the subject matter; then again I think I was supposed to be.
It’s not as if anyone’s going to try and come up with a
way to sugar coat things. But
there are little known stories that come out every so often that
are fascinating, if not in shock value, then in sheer morality.
This is one of those stories.
Set in the cremaotrium at
Auschwitz, Grey Zone refers to the moral state that these people
were put into. Sometimes leading their own to death, other
times disposing of their bodies, all in exchange for some freedom,
luxuries and a bit of an extension to their lives. The
Sondderkommando’s were prisoners, who were given the special
luxuries of single beds, fancy meals, jewelry and such in exchange
for performing tasks that the Germans simply didn’t want to do.
This did not save their lives, as they were given 4 month
reprieves which only prolonged the inevitable.
Amongst these prisoners though, a rebellion was arising.
A rebellion against what was not the problem, the purpose
of it though, seemed a little grey.
Arquette and company are organizing an uprising, which is
deterred slightly by the discovery of a young girl who somehow
survived the gas chamber. The prisoners seem to be
revived vicariously through the girl. Meanwhile a
doctor, whose novel the basics of the story is based upon, is
working directly for Josef Mengele is having conflicts about the
way his profession and training is being used against his own
kind. Sorvino and
Lyonne are women who are just as steadfast in their rebellion, but
still seem a bit defeated by it all.
The story is a bit hard to follow at times, with things
never being totally clarified to a point where I could completely
sympathize with them. The
actions and speeches were sometimes mechanical, and other times,
truly chilling. But
shocking images alone do not make a powerful film, and this is
where The Grey Zone fails slightly.
The film broaches the topic of self-preservation versus
morality. This was the conflict that faced the people chosen for
this detail. Nelson
definitely touches a nerve with this message, but his delivery
gets diluted a bit. It
doesn’t take away from the films power and provocation of
thought though, thanks to the dialogue and the performances
In this year that
may yield some great performances from unexpected places, it
should come as not surprise that Arquette’s dramatic turn is
sarcastic nature and smirk have been toned down to a pained look
of someone whose life has been taken away and who is fighting for
every last bit of something that he will never have again.
His performance reflects that of most of the cast, but he
stands out not only because it’s atypical, but because it simply
just that good. Some of the performers, Keitel most notably, seem to be
trying to overcome the uncomfortable and stiff nature of things,
but in the end, that causes the movie to come down a few notches
and lessens it’s impact.
Grey Zone is a film that is effective at conveying an emotion, but
ineffective in its delivery and translation to the big screen.
The survival instinct exists inside each person; the
difference is in what brings it out, if anything does, and if we
can justify the actions that we take to survive.
The Grey Zone poses that moral question which seems to
trouble most of the characters in the film. The
dialogue is sharp but seems to come too easily and quickly, as if
written rather than reaction.
This does not take away though from the power of the film.
It is disturbing, sad, depressing and powerful.
There are scenes that are difficult to watch, then again
they should be. This
is not a film about happy things, it is about people who know they
are going to die, trying to squeeze out every little bit of life
that they can while trying to maintain as much of themselves as
they can. The Grey
Zone is a good film, that should been more memorable than it
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