“ Actors: Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen / Director: Franklin J. Schaffner / Writers: Heywood Gould, Ira Levin / Producers: Martin Richards, Robert Fryer, Stanley O'Toole / Classification: 18 / Studio: ITV Studios Home Entertainment / Released: 28 Feb 2000 / Run Time: 118 minutes „
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Last year, I reviewed The Boys from Brazil; a book I bought because I had fond memories of this film. The book, it turned out, was superb. Having revisited the film, I can confirm that it is just as good as I remembered.
A Nazi Hunter in South America stumbles across an outrageous plot to establish the Fourth Reich. At the head of this project is the notorious concentration camp doctor, Josef Mengele. Nazi hunter Ezra Liebermann must try and find out what is happening and persuade the sceptical authorities to stop this audacious plot which, if successful, could change human history forever.
The central idea behind The Boys from Brazil comes off as a bit old-hat now. In an era where almost every sci-fi film deals with the issue of cloning, it's no longer an original concept. However, you have to put the film in the context of when it was made. Back in 1978, cloning was not something that most people were familiar with and the plot behind The Boys from Brazil would have been both incredible and shocking.
In fact, despite an over-familiarity with its central idea, The Boys from Brazil still makes for an excellent film, well paced and well plotted. You will spend much of the film not fully understanding what is going on, but that is entirely natural. What The Boys from Brazil does is slowly build the tension and gradually reveal what is happening. Each time a new fact is revealed, the plot grows more intriguing and the mystery ever deeper. Then suddenly, it all clicks - the big reveal comes and Mengele's true aims become chillingly apparent.
Part of the reason The Boys from Brazil works so well is that it is kept highly realistic at all times. However, outlandish the plot might seem, it is always grounded in reality and seems plausible. This makes it all the more scary when it finally becomes obvious what is happening. Yes, the tale is beyond the bounds of scientific reality, but it serves as a warning to what could happen if we continue to meddle with genetics and cloning. In many ways, it is a deeply prescient plot, far ahead of its time.
The superb plot is backed up by some excellent acting, particularly from Gregory Peck. Peck is excellently cast as Mengele and steals the show. He is by turns chillingly aloof, beautifully arrogant and yet disturbingly charming. He oozes both menace and charisma and, dressed in his white suit, is deeply convincing. It is a subtle performance that is both worryingly normal and scary at the same time.
Peck is backed up by leading thespian Laurence Olivier, who is almost as good. True, Oliver's high pitched faux Jewish-German voice sounds a little forced and unsubtle today, but Olivier makes for a sympathetic lead as Ezra Liebermann. He has the knack of generating a whole range of emotions, even introducing a little humour to lighten the mood occasionally.
Between them, these two produce some very powerful scenes, not least in the powerful end sequences when they finally come together on screen. These final scenes really set the lid on the film as the two old enemies come face to face for the first time in a long, long time. It's a sequence that is bursting with tension and drama, and both actors handle it well. Neither tries to upstage the other, but both work together to try and ensure the sequences have maximum impact.
Elsewhere, there is good and bad news. James Mason is excellent in his fairly limited scenes as fellow Nazi plotter Seibert, although it is with regret that I have to point out that the film also contains Steve Guttenberg. On the plus side, he only appears early in the film.
Where the book is not quite as good as the film is in the pacing. The book (as befitted the plot) had a very stripped down style, racing along in a way that caught the reader up in it. Strangely, the film is much slower paced. Whilst this does add to the slow-burning tension, at times it is over-extended, particularly when it drifts away from its source material. The sequences that are essentially direct replicas of the book are just as good. It's in the additional, unnecessary sequences that it suffers, with some of these sequences letting the tense atmosphere leech away.
As you might expect from a film almost 35 years old, it has dated a little. Having said that, because it has such a strong plot and because it doesn't rely on special effects this has relatively little impact on the film. Indeed, where the age of the film is most noticeable is that the film making itself is a little more naive and simplistic than you expect from modern films. Still, that's no bad thing because whilst The Boys from Brazil might be just a touch overlong, it is nowhere near as bad as some of the modern bloated blockbusters we have to suffer these days.
Imaginative, intriguing and innovative (for its day) The Boys from Brazil is still an excellent film. Supported by some superb turns from Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier, it's an entertaining film that is still worth watching. Better still, you can get it on Amazon (new) for £3.50.
The Boys from Brazil
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Running time: approx. 125 minutes
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