Based on actual events, The Grey Zone is the story of theAuschwitz’s twelfth Sonderkommando – one of the thirteen consecutive’Special Squads’ of Jewish prisoners placed by the Nazis in the excruciatingmoral dilemma of helping to exterminate fellow Jews in exchange for a fewmore months of life. The film chronicles the Sonder-kommando’s struggle toorganize the only armed revolt that would ever take place at Auschwitz.
As the rebellion is about to commence, a group from the unit discovers afourteen-year-old girl who has miraculously survived a gassing. A catalystfor their desperate attempt at personal redemption, the men become obsessedwith saving this one child even as doing so endangers the uprising, whichcould save thousands.
Writer/director Tim Blake Nelson is noble in his efforts to bring thislittle-known but important chapter of the Holocaust to the public’sattention. Unfortunately, his heavy-handed approach to the material deadensthe emotional impact the viewer needs to connect. The muddled story isfilled with indistinguishable characters delivering stiff dialogue spoken ina David Mamet style that even Mamet himself would have shied away from usingif he were making the film.
Nelson does manage to elicit a few moments of powerful drama, including aharrowing scene involving a watch. Yet his “in your face” approach to thesubject matter and the relentless, graphic nature of the film becomes toomuch to bear after a while. Seldom is there any letup from the parade ofgraphic images of dead bodies, killings or torture. A little restraint onNelson’s part certainly would have gone a long way in delivering more of anemotional impact.
The actors give it their best, but to little avail. David Arquette(showing promise as a dramatic actor), Daniel Benzali, David Chandler andAllan Corduner (a standout as a Jewish doctor) are decent, while SteveBuscemi, Natasha Lyonne and an unrecognizable Mira Sorvino don’t really makemuch of an impact. Harvey Keitel, as a Nazi Officer, is hard to takeseriously thanks to a silly German accent (oddly enough, everyone else hasan American accent).
Like the September 11th attacks on America, we need to be constantlyreminded of the horrors of the Holocaust in order to prevent it from everhappening again. If Hollywood is going to help keep the memories alivethough, they need to do so by making better films on the topic than TheGrey Zone. Noble intentions do not a good film make.