Ben Foster looks bloodied throughout Barry Levinson The survivor. The actor, who plays the real Auschwitz survivor, Herschel “Harry” Haft, receives regular beatings to his body and face throughout the post-war film, which follows him as he leads combat on a large scale in the hope of reaching her pre-war lover. Struggling with decisions made in various concentration camps, Haft fights with an anger that often turns into regret, making him a great fighter, for a few rounds.
Levinson’s drama deploys black and white flashbacks to show Haft’s memories, including time spent as a boxer for German soldiers to stay alive during their imprisonment, becoming an integral part and suffering from the deaths of his friends. tedious and filled with gruesome imagery, these sequences stall the ongoing story, telling audiences about the specific demons Haft faces. Levinson leaves little to the imagination, dismissing most of the images with the emotion audiences should feel rather than conjure up anything genuine.
Foster adheres to the story with a physical and imposing performance, despite the (occasional) lightness of its setting. He growls and gravitates throughout the two-hour affair, bouncing from explosion to explosion, infested with inescapable memories when he closes his eyes every night. Alongside Foster are actors who can improve any movie: Danny DeVito (as the opposing coach), John Leguizamo (as Haft’s coach), Vicky Krieps (as the love interest). briefly seen from Foster) and Peter Sarsgaard (as a reporter). More than fixable, they can’t elevate dry steering or push this script to engage anything beyond general indifference.
The survivor lack of inspiration while chronicling an inspiring figure, lacking both creativity and touching emotions, hoping the real story itself will suffice. Harry Haft should be offered a more exciting, sensitive and human film – a film told with the requisite intention, care and imagination. With no thrills or surprises, Levinson follows a straightforward narrative, in which weddings can be seen right off the bat, fights are decided before they even begin, and flashbacks do more harm than good.
As Haft continues on his journey to his ex-sweetheart, the rest of the story falls into place, with no change of tone in sight. There is a distinct nature between the present and the past, separated by color, timing, and sheer contempt. But Levinson makes existence grueling in either period, with the entire effort a chore on Haft, his friends and family, and the beholder.
Looking at The survivor in boxing films and Holocaust films, he fails on both fronts. He never reached the heights of his predecessors, wanting to be both Rocky and be The pianist–– a show of strength in the face of impossibility, and how this resilience can inaugurate radiance. Still, Levinson takes few risks here, despite the grim images he’s willing to show of his leader’s past.
There is something to be said for the absence of joy in The survivor. The smile is paramount for most of the characters, which is more than understandable. Levinson captures a difficulty unknown to anyone who experienced the atrocities of the concentration camps. It allows cruelty to whistle off the screen but adds little more than pain. Maybe there is nothing that can accompany these years of suffering for Haft and so many others. Maybe Levinson described everything as realistically as possible. However, none of this means that the movie works or that the emotional elements blend into the back-and-forth structure used. Winding down to a conclusion that needs a greater sense of purpose, in those moments – the ones that should have the power to wet the eyes and sniff the nose – Levinson takes a big hit and misses.
The survivor premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.