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Jakob The Liar  

Jakob Helm (Robin Williams)
Frankfurter (Alan Arkin)
Mischa (Liev Schreiber)
Professor Kirschbaum (Armin Mueller-Stahl)
Kowalaski (Bob Balaban)

Directed and Written by Peter Kassovitz
Rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images Running Time: 114 minutes Distributed by Sony

Jakob the Liar is a film about the Holocaust that becomes intact with irrelevant metaphors and weak direction. Jakob Helm (Williams) is a Jewish café owner that is living in a Nazi-controlled ghetto during World War II. While waiting in a German officer's office for punishment, Jakob accidentally overhears a radio news bulletin saying that the German forces are beginning to fall to the Russian forces. After telling his friend Mischa (Schreiber), an ex-boxer that also lives in the ghetto, a rumor is leaked to everyone in the ghetto that Jakob has a hidden radio. Now knowing that his life is at stake, Jakob tries to deny the rumor, but everyone believes he trying to hide the radio. After learning that the false radio rumors have given hope to everyone in the ghetto, Jakob begins telling lies about the movements of the war that he heard on the radio. As the suicide rates drop in the ghetto, Jakob is held as a hero. As Jakob tells more and more lies, the situation for everyone in the ghetto becomes more and more dangerous.

Many people might link this film to last year's Life is Beautiful. The two films are very close and similar, but Life is Beautiful is by far a better film and much more accurate and superior. However, Jakob the Liar was filmed and completed two years ago before Life is Beautiful was made. A different approach to the two films, was that Life is Beautiful was originally written by Roberto Bengini, and Jakob the Liar is adapted from a novel. Jakob the Liar tries extremely hard to get the emotional warmth and feeling like Life is Beautiful and Schindler's List, but it fails. Life is Beautiful and Schindler's List are two monumental masterpieces, and Jakob the Liar isn't that good of a movie.

Peter Kassovitz directed Jakob the Liar. Kassovitz did not take a good approach to a film like this. The whole film takes place in a ghetto, which was presented well, but all the other aspects of the Holocaust and World War II were fizzled out of the story. Nothing that is going on outside of the ghetto is presented. Maybe that is the way that Kassovitz wanted the picture to be as if the audience is in the ghetto with Jakob and his friends. In my opinion, it just didn't work.

The script is crammed with way too many obstacles and situations for the main character of Jakob to handle. On top of lying about the radio, Jakob becomes a father like figure to a little girl that he is hiding from the Germans. A big loophole that develops is how Jakob has room to take care of the girl; everybody else in the ghetto has other people living with them except Jakob, who lives alone. The script is also filled with many metaphors that do not serve a strong purpose. One example is the newspaper that keeps drifting away from Jakob, symbolizes the longing he has for news of the war.

Robin Williams is a very talented actor, but he doesn't need to do his different voices in every movie. The voices work well for him in Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Morning Vietnam, but hurt him in Patch Adams and Jakob the Liar. He should just stick to the drama and the character, which in my opinion he is best at. Williams is so incredible in his past dramatic roles, examples are Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, and Good Will Hunting. Outside of Williams, the film is filled actors who developed accents for their roles. Liev Schreiber, who plays Mischa, delivers an well-acted performance as Jakob's big-mouthed boxing friend. Some of Schreiber's previous credits include Scream, Scream 2, Sphere, and Ransom.

Jakob the Liar does have some moments that will move its audience because of the horrors of the Holocaust, but overall as a film it sort of misses it's opportunities. If you want to see a great, tragic, and accurate film about the Holocaust period, I recommend either Life is Beautiful or Schindler's List over Jakob the Liar.

Report Card Grade: C-

Beastman's Movie Reviews
Copyright, 1999 Joseph C. Tucker

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