Starring: David Arquette, Harvey Kietel, Mira Sorvino,
Steve Buscemi, David Chandler, Velizar Binev and Natasha Lyonne
Directed by: Tim Blake Nelson
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 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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Recommendation: A square meal