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I was completely stunned at how well Robin Williams pulled off more
dramatic roles, since he's much more well-known for high-energy comedy.
his roles as the bad guy in movies like Insomnia or, even better, One Hour
Photo display the extent of his acting abilities, since he is able to pull
off such different characters so well. In Jakob the Liar, his comedic
talents are restricted just enough so that he is able to function properly
within the atmosphere of the movie, but is still allowed a scene or two in
which his ability to get laughs can come out. He plays Jakob, a Jewish
shopkeeper in a Nazi ghetto who tells a friend that he has a radio in
to prevent that friend from committing suicide.
Things do not appear to be going well within the ghetto, the war seems like it will never end, and morale among the imprisoned Jews is steadily waning, resulting in suicides left and right. As Jakob finds a friend of his doing something that will certainly get him killed by the Nazis (this particular friend decided to make a ham-handed attempt at escape rather than overtly kill himself), Jakob runs to him and tells him that he heard on the radio that the Russians were closing in and would liberate them any day. His skeptical friend doubts him, so Jakob quickly tells him that he has a radio so that he will believe the Russians will be there to save them all soon, and his friend's suicide is prevented.
By the next morning, literally everyone in the ghetto knows that Jakob Heym has a radio, and so he is venerated like a God and constantly hounded about what the newest news is, and thus enters the main conflict of the movie. And speaking of which, one of the things that I really liked about the movie was the complexity of its conflict. It's a conflict that you sit there knowing what needs to happen for a happy ending and so you sit there and hope for that, because every option has terrible consequences.
Jakob, first and foremost, is absolutely terrified that word will reach the Nazis who will execute him if they discover he has a radio (whether he really has it or not), yet at the same time he can't let it get out within the ghetto that he DOESN'T have a radio, because since the whole rumor began the rampant suicides have completely ceased. What he has to do, then, is walk the fine line between delivering lots of fictitious good news to the whole ghetto without letting the Nazis find out about it.
There is definitely something that needs to be said about the importance of a movie like this. Obviously, holocaust movies are nothing new, and different depictions of the holocaust have been especially in the spotlight since Roberto Benigni made a holocaust movie called Life Is Beautiful in 1997, at least half of which was a comedy. A lot of people felt that it was distasteful to present something as serious and tragic as the holocaust in such a light. And not just average moviegoers like me, either. Spielberg thought it was too lighthearted for such weighty subject matter, and from a certain point of view, he's right. On the other hand, however, the fact that you laughed during the film does not change the meaning of the war that it focuses on. The Nazis killed funny people, too.
I read a review on the title page for Jakob the Liar here on the IMDb, where a reviewer who completely missed the boat on this movie criticized it for things like the comedic content, the behavior and presentation of the Jews of the ghetto, and the choice of Robin Williams for the role of Jakob Heym. To be perfectly honest, I can never understand people like that. The way I see it, as long as a movie takes the holocaust seriously then it should not be criticized for being a holocaust film that's not in the right format or that had an actor who has done too many comedy roles. This same reviewer, by the way, praised Life Is Beautiful, a spectacular film, as is Jakob the Liar.
I can certainly understand that there are people who are touchy about the holocaust. It is inarguably one of the most tragic events in all of recorded human history, made even more tragic by the fact that it was perpetrated by humans against other humans. It's sickening. But there are no jokes about the holocaust in Jakob the Liar. The Jews do not act like victims. It is historically accurate and does not compromise the truth of what happened for the sake of entertainment. It presents a story of a ghetto full of captive Jews who have had their lives stolen from them and are desperate for some hope, and one man tries to help and inadvertently finds himself in a position to provide massive amounts of hope to them, but at massive risk to his own safety.
So if you don't like to see Robin Williams playing serious, dramatic roles (roles at which he is increasingly displaying his massive talent ), don't watch the movie! It is neither a secret that Williams is in the movie, nor that it's a serious role. One look at the cover box will tell you that. But if it's the holocaust being taken seriously that troubles you, maybe you should be more concerned about the fact that there are people, alive TODAY, here in the 21st Century, and presumably relatively educated American citizens, who DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THE HOLOCAUST EVER EVEN HAPPENED. So like I said, if you're that concerned about the portrayal of the holocaust, maybe focus your efforts on these nutcases who have convinced themselves that the holocaust itself is just a fable. Maybe a myth that mothers started telling their kids to make them scared of Germans or some other such nonsense.
Jakob the Liar has no illusions, it takes a tragedy in human history and tells a story of a man who did what he could to help those suffering around him, and Robin Williams should obviously be commended for the power of his performance, as should the rest of the cast. The thing to keep in mind is that there is no certain perspective from which to view things like the holocaust. Everyone has different thoughts and feelings about it, and in the movies these different perspectives can be provided in different ways without compromising the severity and finality of the event itself. Jakob the Liar does not at all trivialize the holocaust in any way, what it does is honor the loss of its victims, who came from all walks of life.
Over the years, I have found Robin Williams to be one of the most
frustrating actors around. Clearly loaded with talent, in my opinion at
least most of his movies have been disappointments. He either gives
unnecessarily over-the-top performances that really don't fit the context,
or he controls his natural comedic instincts to the point at which he comes
across as uninspired. So I wasn't sure what to expect in "Jakob the Liar."
What I found was a surprisingly good performance in a wonderful
Williams plays Jakob Heym, confined to the Jewish Ghetto of Warsaw by the Nazis during the Second World War. With hope fading, Heym accidentally discovers that Russian troops aren't far away, and begins to spread the news. Others become convinced that he has a radio hidden, and Heym's fictional "news reports" from the BBC provide enough hope to keep the residents of the Ghetto going through this dark time.
Williams (also executive producer) did a fine job as Heym. As one would expect, his character comes across as something of a comedian ("I believe we're God's Chosen People; I just wish He had chosen someone else!") but his humour is appropriate; the sort of dark humour one would expect from people in this situation. The other performances faded into the background, not because they were bad but because Williams so dominated the movie. Special mention should go to Justus von Dohnanyi, though, who played the Nazi Commandant "Preuss." Dohnanyi manages to capture exactly the sort of slimy, inhuman character one would expect to be put in charge of such a business. The rest of the cast (primarily Hannah Taylor-Gordon as Lina and Liev Schreiber as Mischa) are good, but overshadowed by Williams.
The character of Kirschbaum (played by Armin Mueller-Stahl) filled me with sadness and represents a clear statement of the evils of Nazism. A world-famous cardiologist, Kirschbaum, because he is Jewish, is forbidden to practice medicine, and ends up cleaning toilets. Mueller-Stahl plays the character with a quiet dignity, and next to Williams is the clear highlight of the movie.
This movie represents a wonderful testimony to the importance of hope in helping people see themselves through what must seem to be impossible situations. Although fictional, it is an important movie for those with an interest in the events of this era.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I read the reviews and was a little hesitant to go see this movie. Not very good reviews. But after seeing the movie, I can't understand why the critics didn't like it. Guess they want Robin Williams to stay in his mold as a comedian. I've seen him in his recent serious roles, and I think he is an excellent drama actor. I think he has come a long way since Mork and Mindy. This movie was very good. It is a movie about the holocaust in Poland. It takes place in the ghetto and tells of a used to be restaurant owner who here's some propaganda on the radio (in the gestapos office) and ends up telling lies to boost his fellow mans moral. I don't want to go into detail to much cuz it would spoil the movie for you. Also, he meets a little girl who escaped from a train to the camps and befriends Jakob who takes her in and takes care of her. They have a very cute relationship. All in all I thought this movie was very well done and portrayed the holocaust in a very realistic way. The cast was very good..........you must go see this movie!!!!
If you are interested in the holocaust, and want to be entertained at
the same time, Jakob the Liar is your film. This is not intended to be
an historical film. And, to be sure, it isn't.
Just speaking for myself, I wish everyone would educate themselves about this horrible episode in human history. If you have a friend who refuses to watch honest historical films, turn them on to Jakob the Liar. It IS Robin Williams, after all. For sure, this film will encourage them to learn more about the holocaust. Its very entertaining and does give some superficial insight into what the atrocity was all about.
Robin Williams did his best. He did a fine job in this film, and deserves even more credit just for making the attempt. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it an 8.
Maybe the reason I keep hearing so many negative comments on this film is
because people aren't seeing it for what it is. It is not a comedy by any
stretch of the imagination. It is not an attempt to profit from LA VITA E
BELLA (this was filmed in the autumn of '97, before the Benigni film was
even released in Italy).
The truth is, JAKOB THE LIAR is an incredible film in its own right. I've read/seen many other Holocaust testimonials (including MAUS and the aforementioned LA VITA E BELLA), but this was by far the most stirring of any of them. I was especially impressed by Robin Williams' performance. Granted, I'm partial to him, but I was completely bowled over by this performance. I believe this is the darkest and most serious role he has ever done, but he pulls it off magnificently.
Don't believe the nay-sayers on this one ... this is incredible. It's a must-see for everyone. Would I lie to you?
What I like about Jakob's tale is that Jakob is no
natural hero who sets out to keep hope alive. Far
from it. He is an ordinary man, and as terrified of
the Nazis as any of his neighbors in the ghetto.
He blunders his way into his unlikely role as a
keeper of hope, and once there, cannot see from
moment to moment how he can maintain it, wishes at
times he could be rid of the burden, and yet
somehow, manages to continue to inspire others
who are so desperate for hope, they don't even try
to disbelieve. In short, don't be fooled by the
title: Jakob is just this guy; plotwise, he is
only a hub around which a large wheel turns.
There were parts that didn't work for me, especially pieces where narration would have worked better than a character monologue (Jakob is a narrator as well as a character, so why does he talk to himself instead of us so much?) But on the whole, it was a good story, well performed by those involved.
The ending, which I shall refrain from describing for the benefit of any who have not seen it, is absolutely fitting. It is surreal, which may bother some, but leaves the door open to so many interpretations that you will wonder whether to take it as the true end, or whether it was Jakob's final lie. And fittingly, the decision is left in the mind of the viewer.
NO SPOILERS, read freely. I had long heard about this movie but I did not have a slight clue of how good it really was. Apart Michael Jeter, Alan Arkin, Robin Williams and Armin Mueller-Stahl I wasn't really familiar with many other faces on the screen but everyone stood up to their role brilliantly. This WWII drama narrates the story of accidental prophet Jakob whose lies bring hope to those living in his Ghetto in a time of hardship. It's a sad story but more than once you are forced to smile by the evvents. Missing out on this one would be a pity. Everything about JAKOB THE LIAR is perfect, it's a very realistic down to earth story, acting and script are also brilliant...not to mention Edward Shearmur's really heartwarming scoundtrack, what a pity it has not been released. (the CD) A must for the lovers of the genre.
It's always a shame to see movies that we feel bring so much to the table, be given bad reviews or do poorly at the box-office. While people who say the "holocaust film" has become a trite and overdone genre may be correct, this film is an outstanding piece of work that suffered mainly because it was released around the same time as the fairly similar "Life is Beautiful." with Roberto Benini. The story follows a jewish man named Jakob, who had been forced into a ghetto by the nazis. (hollywood's favorite villians by far) After overhearing a radio transmission, he relays the information to his companions that the russians are coming closer to liberating the ghetto. His friends misunderstand this, and believe that he himself has a radio, and press him for more at every turn. He is forced to make up news, in order to give his fellow prisoners hope. This film is not only about one man bringing hope to people who otherwise have none. It is about the sacrifices that some people are willing to make, in order to keep that hope alive. The jewish doctor in this film was actually in the original movie (made in germany in the mid 70's) The sacrifice the doctor makes is very moving, and gives a clear cut message of the film. At the time, many critics disliked this film. If they had a chance to review it again however, I think that they would most likely change their perspective. Nine out of Ten.
Don't be put off by the negative comments. If you like the characters Robin Williams creates, and you like unusual dramas, you'll like Jakob the Liar. The film wanted to be Roberto Benigni and Life is Beautiful but never seemed to have the courage to go there, even with Robin Williams in the lead, until the last few scenes of the movie. However, being another Life is Beautiful is asking an awful lot. Life is Beautiful is one of the great films of all time. Having said that, Jakob the Liar is fiendishly good, creatively done, and Robin Williams does a fine job, even when Hannah Taylor-Gordon, who plays Lina, wasn't stealing every scene she was in. So, settle down and give this little movie a try. If nothing else, it's another solid performance by Robin Williams.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
People who say the ending is too sentimental and sappy don't understand! Sadly, it's not happy like many believe. In Jakob's final narration, he was trying to instill hope in the viewers just like he did with his people when he falsely said he had the radio. This is evident when he says, "Or MAYBE..." He made many of the hopeful things up throughout the movie, so that's why I think he made up the happy ending.
Now to the review...
A very good movie. It seems overlong at times, but the wonderful performance of Robin Williams as Jakob held my interest very much. This is a dreary, depressing film, and hardly has any humor. The type of humor found in this movie is extremely dry, and isn't for everyone (I know it isn't my type). As for the cinematography, well, it was wonderful. There's not much color in this film, only drab and soft brown, black and gray tones, which add to the atmosphere of sadness. Overall, a very effective film.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
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