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The Grey Zone

Starring: David Arquette, Harvey Kietel, Mira Sorvino, Steve Buscemi, David Chandler, Velizar Binev and Natasha Lyonne
Directed by: Tim Blake Nelson
Rated: R


From the first scene of The Grey Zone director/writer/producer Tim Blake Nelson grabs your imagination by the throat and relentlessly forces you to pay attention. He starts with funnyman David Arquette in a tight close up. However as we start to smile and nest into our seats the camera pulls away to reveal the tight tortured face of Arquette's character "Hoffman." We realize fast this is no comedy.

No, no it isn't. Nelson has scripted a truthful nonjudgmental depiction of the Sondercommandos of Auschwitz. These were poor souls torn from their families as the rest, but offered a particularly punishing deal with the devils. They could work the gas chambers and they could live a few more months. Or be shot for refusing.

Based on accounts from the notorious Doctor Josef Mengele's assistant Miklos Nyiszli 's memoirs and sparked by an essay by Primo Levi, Nelson wrote first a play now the film on the subject. His story follows the planning of what was to be a great uprising at the camp. The prisoners from the Sondercommando would collaborate with the prisoners from the other area and revolt. The women forced to work in the factories would join in by smuggling gunpowder for the revolt. Their goal was to blow up the crematoriums, stop the slaughter, for a few, give them the chance to escape and for others it would just help to get back their dignity and moral core.

As we watch the horrific drama unfold and the squabbling that hinders even those faced with death a small miracle happens. One of the children, a young girl, sent to the chamber actually survives. The men of the Sondercommando agree to save her at all costs. As one says they "are not murders." A spark of their humanity shines through. It is all they have.

The film simply is. It tells the story of these men and their struggle to survive at any cost. Some crack under the immense strain others void themselves and still others live with a hope the planes above will liberate them any day now…

The Grey Zone is an intense often gut wrenching bit of matter of fact. The cast is impeccable and you feel as if they really gave it their all to be as true to the stories being told as they could. Particularly David Arquette. Comics are generally fantastic actors. Some believe comedy is the hardest form of entertainment and usually the species impress when they slide from slapstick to drama. Arquette astonishes.

Tim Blake Nelson left nothing to chance. He gathered some of the finest to draw us into his piece. It worked. You'll find Harvey Keitel, David Chandler Velizar Binev and Steve Buscemi aside Arquette. In the women's area he gave the helm to uber talent Miro Sorvino with Natasha Lyonne. Marvelous. The young girl who survives, played by Kamelia Grigorova, was iridescent even in her stark gloomy surroundings.

Then there's all that intricate detail in the film. You can't catch Tim "cheating." Auschwitz comes morbidly to life and the lack of soundtrack orchestrating our emotions is, again, perfection. We hear the camp; every creepy back sound, wail, mechanical pound. I was actually sick to my stomach when I left the theater. When was the last time a film moved you that much?

Sure, Shindler's List, which this will undoubtedly be compared to, is still the master of the horror. But Blake Nelson has given us another glimpse lest we forget. There are no dashing cast members to soften the blows. It's gritty gruesome and gloriously moving. Phenomenal filmmaking and no nonsense history telling meant to remind all of us what happened and, hopefully, keep us from repeating.

The Grey Zone is not for everyone I'm afraid. It's heavy and intense and gloriously exhausting. A horror film steeped in sad truth. You'll walk away with your viewing partner and be able to debate the morality choices for hours…. maybe weeks.

Snack Recommendation: A square meal


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