TAKING SIDES is a brilliant movie which receives an extreme caution, -2, from MOVIEGUIDE® for some outbursts of foul language and documentary footage of naked Holocaust victims. The movie starts in the midst of World War II in a cathedral with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The orchestra is conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler whom, the audience is told, was the best conductor of the 20th century. When the power goes out in the midst of an air raid, men with flashlights come to Wilhelm and tell him he must leave the country.
In the next scene, an American war crimes advocate is preparing his researcher, Major Steve Arnold, played superbly by Harvey Keitel. Steve is told in no uncertain terms to forget justice and mercy, that all Germans are Nazis, and the tribunal must make an example out of the most visible of them. Because of his doggedness as an insurance investigator, Steve is sent to investigate Wilhelm. He is given an assistant, Emmi, whose father was involved in the plot to kill Hitler and who was executed, and another assistant, David, a German Jew, who escaped Germany as a little boy and grew up in America.
Steve tries to put together a case against Wilhelm, but everyone says Wilhelm never joined the Nazi party, that he rescued many Jews, and that he believed that art and politics should not mix. He browbeats Wilhelm so mercilessly that Emmi walks out. She tells Steve he reminds her of the Gestapo who questioned her. One informer makes accusations against Wilhelm, but they cannot be proved. Steve wants to reduce everything to materialistic motivations. Wilhelm believes in art, and that there is a spiritual side of life. He refused to leave his homeland because he believed it was better to stand for something good than to run.
TAKING SIDES is a brilliant consideration of these two points of view. In spite of the predominance of Steve’s voice, one wonders whether he didn’t just adopt the tactics of the Gestapo, as Emmi said. One questions whether this is a show trial or a serious investigation for the sake of justice. One wonders whether there is a spiritual side to life, or whether everything is material in life, as Steve asserts. One also questions who deserves forgiveness and whether everyone is culpable. Thus, the underlying questions in TAKING SIDES are spiritual questions, but the movie does not take sides.
From this critic’s point of view, Steve loses his case in more ways than one. These are profound questions that need to be considered again and again. There are, of course, simple biblical answers, but applying those answers in difficult situations requires a great deal of prayer, hope, and quiet wisdom.
The direction of this movie is flawless. The acting captivates. Every part of the production is beautifully done.
The movie demands extreme caution because of Steve’s outbursts of foul language and the repeated images of dead, naked Holocaust victims. Steve also gets drunk with his Russian counterpart, as each tries to take advantage of the other.
The interesting part of the movie is that Emmi and David, who had the most to gain from convicting Wilhelm, yet choose Wilhelm’s side. For mature audiences, this is a movie worth watching.
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SUMMARY: TAKING SIDES is a brilliant movie which receives an extreme caution for some outbursts of foul language and documentary footage of naked Holocaust victims. Starring Harvey Keitel, the movie tells the story of the interrogation of a famous German composer, Wilhelm Furtwängler, and in the process considers some of the most important questions of politics, art and life.
(C, LLL, V, NNN, AA, D, M) Mild Christian worldview asking profound questions in a very subtle way, such as: Isn't there more to life than materialism? Who deserves forgiveness? Who are the bad guys?; 21 obscenities and 11 profanities; images of Holocaust victims' naked bodies being bulldozed into trenches and brief scuffling when Army Major seizes informer; no sex; nude Holocaust victims in documentary footage; drunkenness; smoking; and the whole question of art versus politics; treachery, lying, informing, and badgering.