The Survivor (2022)
Director: Barry Levinson
Writer: Justine Juel Gillmer
Starring: Ben Foster, Vicky Krieps, Billy Magnussen, Peter Sarsgard, John Leguizamo, and Danny DeVito
Review: Ok. Let’s be real. This probably isn’t “the big movie” of the week. After all, Memory is actually hitting theaters, while this is clearly a made-for-tv movie, dozens of which premiere on HBO a year only to be mostly forgotten. But I honestly didn’t have it in me to watch yet another Liam Neeson action movie and this one had an interesting plot so here we are. The Survivor.
And, as I expected, the plot is by far this movies strongest element. Telling the true story of a man who survived his time in a concentration camp by becoming a boxer for the Nazis entertainment, where they’d kill the loser, and all of the guilt that came with that made for a fascinating tale. It’s a story unlike anything I’ve heard and that’s really refreshing for the WWII genre. And, it led to really intense moral pondering. Is he a bad man for doing what he had to in order to survive? Is he a traitor to his people for (essentially) killing in the name of the Nazis? And, what kind of effect does that sort of decision making have on a person? It’s all truly fascinating stuff. Plus, the cast was absolutely amazing. Ben Foster crushed it. Both as a man fighting for his life and the one looking back on it with regret. Krieps absolutely broke my heart as the woman who loved him. And, Billy Magnussen gives a standout, vile performance as the Nazi who forced our character into this situation. So, yeah, definitely a lot of good stuff here.
However, I was not a fan of how the story was presented. We start the movie with the middle aged version of our character. Then, flash back to his post WWII boxing days. Then, again, often flashback to his time at the concentration camp. So, essentially there are many times when we are in a flashback of a flashback of a flashback. And, I full-hearted think that telling this story out of chronological order was a mistake. I don’t know if they did it to spread out the “interesting” stuff or if they thought it made the story more emotionally impactful, but I think it was a big determinant to the flow of the story. I think just a straight telling of this story would’ve worked much better. And, I have full confidence that the emotion of the later portions of his life are interesting enough to hold the audience’s attention. The way its edited now makes the story feel longer and less impactful. Which, again, is a bummer because this story can and should pack a wallop.
Overall, I did enjoy The Survivor. I think the story is worth experiencing and unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. Plus, like I said, the cast does an amazing job. I just think the flow of the story is thrown off by the way its told, making the experience feel longer and slower than it otherwise would. However, if you’re intrigued by the story, I’d definitely say give this one a shot.
TL;DR: The plot alone, featuring a story unlike any other I’ve heard from its era, makes The Survivor a movie worth checking out, even if I don’t 100% agree with the way the writer chose to tell it.
Score: 7/10 (Good)