Walking With the Enemy: Film Review

Stiff drama heats up as it goes.

Mark Schmidt's debut adapts a true story of heroism in Nazi-occupied Hungary.

THE HAMPTONS, NEW YORK -- A sometimes clumsy film recounting an impressive tale of real-life WWII heroism, Mark Schmidt's Walking With the Enemy centers on a Hungarian Jew who was able to save hundreds of others, in part, by using a dead man's uniform to impersonate a Nazi officer. Motivated by an earnest need to inspire, Schmidt's debut suffers from stiffness but improves as it goes, the tension of its plot overcoming many dramatic failings. Mainstream commercial value is hobbled by the abundance of more artful Holocaust survival films, but in special engagements the picture will find some responsive audiences. The presence of Ben Kingsley in a few scenes, as the Hungarian regent struggling to maintain order, will help prospects to some extent.

Jonas Armstrong plays Elek Cohen, whose heroics are inspired by those of real-world Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum. (Other details have been changed along with the name, like the fact that Rosenbaum employed not a Nazi uniform but that of the Arrow Cross, a Hungarian faction aligned with Hitler's cause.) After escaping from a labor camp, he returns to find that his family has been taken by the Germans, his house and those of his friends given to non-Jewish townsfolk.

Reconnecting with Hannah (Hannah Tointon), a girl he met before the Occupation, Elek finds an operation at Budapest's "Glass House," where the Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz (William Hope) is busy printing thousands of official-looking documents offering his government's protection to Jews. Elek helps distribute these certificates but is soon going much further, dressing as an officer and mingling with the SS in nail-biting scenes in which he passes himself off as the genuine article.

Elek gleans some important information in these conversations, but the emboldened young man is soon taking direct action -- going to places Jews are being rounded up and using his ersatz authority to commandeer them (marching them off "to dig ditches" and instead taking them to safety) or otherwise stop their mistreatment. He makes enemies in these encounters, though, and raises suspicion about his credentials. Kenny Golde's screenplay builds this tension effectively, and Armstrong believably presents a determination that verges on grim mania. As Elek's role-playing makes him face increasingly swampy moral dilemmas, one wonders if storytellers will ever run out of astonishing tales from this terrible period.

Production Company: Liberty Studios

Cast: Jonas Armstrong, Ben Kingsley, Hannah Tointon, Simon Kunz, Simon Dutton, Burn Gorman, Shane Taylor, William Hope, Flora Spenzer-Longhurst

Director: Mark Schmidt

Screenwriter: Kenny Golde

Producers: Mark Schmidt, D. Scott Trawick, Christopher Williams, Randy Williams

Director of photography: Dean Cundey

Production designer: Christian Niculescu

Music: Tim Williams

Costume designer: Oana Paunescu

Editors: Eric L. Beason, Richard Nord

No rating, 129 minutes