Resistance: 1942 review – Jason Patric smuggles quality into worthy war tale

A group of dissident French fugitives dodge goose-stepping Gestapo officers in a drama that loses its battle with cliches

There is the kernel of a good idea in this second world war drama: a Gestapo officer (Sebastian Roché) in occupied France is invited to a dinner at a Côte d’Azur villa where the serving staff are, unbeknown to him, the rebel radio broadcaster (Cary Elwes), dissidents and Jewish fugitives he has been hunting all along. Unfortunately, Matthew Hill and Landon Johnson’s timid film fails to fully capitalise on this uncomfortable scenario and misses opportunities elsewhere, instead going big on self-satisfied pieties about fighting the just fight.

Elwes’s Jacques is the gravelly voice of freedom in wartime Lyon, bidding insurgents over the airwaves to “stay safe” from his garret. But when his daughter Juliet (Greer Grammer) is almost caught filching a radio vacuum tube, she takes refuge in the office of Swiss financier Andre (Jason Patric). Her desperation is unrefusable – and her debutante looks don’t harm her either. Soon, with chief goose-stepper Klaus Jager closing in, Andre agrees to smuggle her and her household-in-hiding to his Mediterranean mansion.

Resistance: 1942 has English-language dialogue throughout, with – weirdly – only the Nazis doing “Cherman” inflections. (Having the French characters follow suit would probably have been too ’Allo ’Allo!) By far the most damagingly inauthentic thing, though, is Elwes’ oddly detached, borderline-parodic performance. Maybe the impish presence he showcased in The Princess Bride would have been a perverse fit here if the film had dug more deeply into what a life of subterfuge means in practice, culminating in his dissembling butler at the reception. But we learn little about Jacques, and Elwes starches his turn with so much caricatural stiff upper lip, ’Allo ’Allo! might in fact have been his primary research material.

As written here, the ambiguous Andre – who channels Nazi money – is a much more interesting character; a kind of Oskar Schindler lite. Patric’s inscrutable performance recedes intriguingly while Elwes over-reaches, suggesting a man locked in internal combat. But beyond facile montages in which Jacques’ radio addresses uplift no one in particular, the directors don’t make a case for why heroism is ultimately the more compelling.

• Resistance: 1942 is released on digital platforms on 10 January.


Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

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