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Jesse Eisenberg Opposes The Nazis As Marcel Marceau In “Resistance”

On paper, everything about Resistance suggests a surefire Academy Award juggernaut. After all, it’s a film that has multiple Oscar nominees in the cast, is set during World War II, centers on the plight of European Jews against the Nazis, and is a biopic of a famous person in the arts. Start carving the statue now, right? Well, not so fast. While Resistance is worthy of a recommendation, it’s mostly a decent picture elevated by a really strong performance by Jesse Eisenberg. Hitting VOD tomorrow, it’s a would be prestige player that can scratch the itch for classy cinema during an otherwise rough (for so many reasons) late March.

The movie is a biopic and historical drama, looking at a pivotal time in the early life of Marcel Marceau (Eisenberg), after a prologue (as well as a bookend during the climax) with General George S. Patton (Ed Harris). Before he was the famous mime, the man was simply Marcel Mangel, an aspiring Jewish actor in Europe during the Nazi occupation. For a while he has no interest in the war, far more concerned with his art. Marcel spends his days impersonating Charlie Chaplin in a burlesque club, working on ambitious plays, and disappointing his strict father. Of course, like so many other Jews at the time, his life is thrown into chaos, danger, and severe upheaval as Hitler’s deadly plan takes shape. Eventually, Marcel has several events lead to his recruitment into the French Resistance, where his acting skills actually come in handy. Teaching orphaned Jewish children how to survive, the specter of the Holocaust fuels him. Eventually, his involvement in the French Resistance led to him saving the lives of thousands of children who were orphaned by the Nazis and their atrocities. Jonathan Jakubowicz writes and directs. M.I. Littin-Menz handles the cinematography, while Angelo Milli composes the score. Rounding out the cast, we have Félix Moati, Clémence Poésy, Edgar Ramírez, Géza Röhrig, Matthias Schweighöfer, and more.

Biopics can be dry affairs, and there are times where this falls into that trap. Luckily, Jesse Eisenberg has rarely been better than he is here, so he mitigates that somewhat. He presents an intense and vivid portrayal of the man who we would come to know as Marcel Marceau. There’s no artifice or the sense of watching Eisenberg do something he’s done before. Without him, this might not have been a recommendation worthy flick. Mostly, it’s a matter of the film running nearly two hours and not necessarily needing that bloated length. Trimmed down a bit, it would be easily digestible, with a clear focus on Eisenberg’s talents.

Resistance never fumbles the material, which is one of its saving graces. Between Eisenberg and the devastating nature of the holocaust, there’s engagement to be found. Filmmaker Jonathan Jakubowicz just never finds that little bit extra that sets a film apart. All that really means is this isn’t Oscar caliber, but it’s still noteworthy. Especially when it was first announced, the concept screamed awards bait and potentially a winning vehicle for Eisenberg. It’s not that, though it likely never was meant to be. Consider and small level of disappointment to mainly be due to unfair expectations.

Tomorrow, Jesse Eisenberg fans and those intrigued by the story can give a look to Resistance when it hits On Demand services. Eisenberg is excellent and the story itself is interesting, even if the execution behind the camera is somewhat uneven. The acting and quiet power of the story win the day, in the end. It won’t be an Academy player, but it’s still well worth watching…

Be sure to check out Resistance, available on VOD this weekend!

(Photos courtesy of IFC Films)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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