The Survivor

Directed By Barry Levinson

Starring – Ben Foster, Vicky Krieps, Peter Sarsgaard

The Plot – Post World War II, Harry Haft (Foster) is a boxer who fought fellow prisoners in the concentration camps to survive. Haunted by memories and guilt, he attempts to use high-profile fights against boxing legends like Rocky Marciano as a way to find his first love again.

Rated R for disturbing violent content, adult language and some nudity

The Survivor | Official Trailer | HBO – YouTube

POSITIVES

Very few films centering around the Holocaust have the nerve or the creative craftsmanship to pull away from the bigger picture persisting in the foreground of the narrative, and instead commit themselves to so many uniquely compartmentalized directions within the scope of a singular source of storytelling. Enter Harry Haft, whose compelling life story practically writes itself for the silver screen, eliciting with it a tender love story, survivor’s remorse, and even a sports underdog story under the umbrella of Haft’s constantly shape-shifting biopic. As obvious as it seems, “The Survivor” is a film that could’ve easily become convoluted with so many dynamics of creativity persisting at once for the dominance of the film’s 128 minute run time, but Levinson’s grip on the direction, as well as Justine Juel Gillmer’s piecing of the script, keeps this train competently on the tracks at all times, held together by three respective periods in the life of Haft that are brilliantly rendered with top notch production of the most transformational variety to make their transitions easy to spot. This affords us the great Hans Zimmer for a series of musical compositions that are surprisingly subdued compared to his recent work. Zimmer strums the strings of a quartet for underlining sentiments that are nuanced enough to leave emotional capability to the talents of the movie’s impeccable ensemble, drawing with them a refreshing blast to the past of Zimmer’s eclectic nature, long before his themes became interchangeable to a fault. Continuing on, the spell-binding cinematography from George Steel diversifies between a colorless canvas that is portraitesque without taking away the grit of the concentration camps they adorn, as well as a luminating vibrance of color during Haft’s later years that surprisingly offers a fine interpretation of various shadow-play for its many morally ambiguous characters. The wardrobe and make-up designs are equally invigorating, not only transforming the familiar aspects of Foster’s appearance with a natural aging that feels believable in the context of the covered time period, but also in the detail of permanence they elicit with the punishment suffered from Haft while finding a career as a journeyman boxer. In donning those gloves, Foster conjures up the single best performance of an already impressive career, capturing a commitment and consistency in accent thickness that is only outdone by the vastness of emotional perplexity giving in to the compelling vulnerability of a character initially constructed as resilient. His work here deserves nothing less than an Oscar nomination, especially considering he underwent a 60-pound weight loss and gain during various times throughout the filming, all in the tender care and authenticity he supplants in a passion project he’s so evidently urgent to command. Foster is joined by Krieps, whose unbridled warmth and nourishing exuberance gives the film a much-needed dose of heart that it uses to alleviate from some of the thicker moments of atmospheric tension, all the while sharing a palpable chemistry with Foster that isn’t just limited to romantic in the air of their dynamic.

 

NEGATIVES

While the film mostly works with the abundance of ambition it continuously tackles, there are problems with the pacing that could’ve allowed for a smoother experience, especially during the film’s inferior third act. On its own, the film feels about twenty minutes too long, stretching certain moments too long, while abandoning others far too early. Before the climactic final thirty minutes, the storytelling is riding a wave of urgency and momentum too frenetic to cohesively keep up with, and this imbalance becomes a reality when the love story and the film are resolved with a straining and stretching of the material that underwhelms the impact of those tender closing moments, leaving the film to limp its way to the finish line that it previously felt it was racing towards. Beyond this, the structure of the storytelling itself, while faithful to the aspects of Haft’s biography, does feel a bit disjointed in the scheme of its stature that is more distracting than synthetic. It’s not convoluted to the point it’s difficult to follow, just overtly clumsy in the way it decides to unravel each of them simultaneously, at times feeling like a TV show format instead of one that lends itself entirely to film. Beyond this, it was great to see John Leguizamo and even Danny Devito among the big names that fill this accredited ensemble, but I wish the script had more for each of them to do to warrant their inclusion. Leguizamo is the bigger problem, especially considering he’s Harry’s manager, and yet the two don’t share any semblance of a dynamic that makes this feel like they’re anything beyond just temporary business partners. If they worked either of them into Harry’s life away from the ring, then I feel it would’ve elicited something far more endearing in the way of their character designs, but as it stands, they’re temporary seat fillers in someone else’s story.

 

OVERALL

With a career defining turn from Foster, and several alluring elements of production geared to maintain your attention throughout, “The Survivor” is able to stay on its feet long enough to dodge the strain of its forcefully difficult method of storytelling that nearly condemns it to mediocrity, all the while landing a few punches of profoundness inside of its exploration into the complexities of survivor’s remorse.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

5 thoughts on “The Survivor

  1. Huh, I have to say that I’m completely in the dark for this one since your review just brought it too my attention. It sounds like there’s a lot going on in this one between the three vastly different stories (sports drama, love story, and exploration of survivors remorse), but it seems like it pulled it off quite well. I do like Ben Foster and I certainly won’t say no to a new Hans Zimmer musical score. The pacing is a little worrisome, but I’m still very interested. Definitely one to keep an eye on. Thank you for bringing it to the attention of your readers. Excellent work!

  2. I was on the fence about watching this movie. Even though Foster is one of my favorite actors and I feel comfort in every movie that he plays in I didn’t have high hopes for this film. Fortunately I came across this review that kind of resparked my interest in the film. I think I will go ahead and give it a shot. Thanks for the fantastic review and keep up the good work.

  3. This review is the first time I’ve heard of this movie. I’m going to add it to my list. Thank you for a wonderfully written review. I love it when you show me something new ❤️

  4. Oh nice! I’ve been eyeing this one up and wondering how it all fit together. Seems like they did a fantastic job with a few hiccups. Going to give this one a view. Film Freak just keeps stacking my 2022 movie must sees.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *