- Actors: Lily James, Jai Courtney, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Marsan, Ben Daniels
- Director: David Leveaux
- Format: AC-3, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
- Language: English
- Subtitles: English, Spanish
- Region: Region A/1
- Rated: R
- Studio: LIONSGATE
- Release Date: August 8, 2017
- Run Time: 90 minutes
Mixing fiction with true events and characters based on real people, The Exception is a World War II narrative full of juxtaposition, some more successful than others. It is part thriller, part drama, with a bit of unconvincing romance also thrown in for good measure. The problem is that the film spends much of its running time trying to figure out which of these will take focus, and in the end they all feel substandard. More a success than a failure, The Exception is also entirely forgettable save supporting performances from Christopher Plummer and Eddie Marsan.
Although this is a WWII film with similar themes and scenarios as countless others of its kind, The Exception is also far removed from the typical action associated with the war. The film takes place in a secluded mansion in the Netherlands, occupied by the exiled German monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II (Plummer), where the Nazi extermination of the world’s Jewish population is more rumor than fact. Even German officer Captain Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is under the belief that the stories of violence are exaggerated, and is only concerned with being a loyal soldier when given the task of finding any Dutch spies that may be embedded in the Kaiser’s mansion.
This changes when Brandt is witness to the views of the visiting Heinrich Himmler (Marsan), who is unafraid to speak openly about the destruction of the Jewish people, but even more through his relationship with one of the Kaiser’s maids. Mieke (Lily James) is inexplicably attracted to Brandt, leading to a bizarre physical relationship between them that is never truly justified in the development of either character. Predictably, it turns out that Mieke is Jewish, making her choice of lover even more confounding.
On top of being attracted to a soldier in the army destroying her people, Mieke is also coincidentally the spy that Brandt has been sent to root out. While this could have made for some adequate suspense, the film prefers to focus on the romance, despite never being developed in a realistic way. There is little spying actually done, and the suspense is left for a brief and predictable climax, long after Mieke’s secrets have been revealed to any relevant characters. A majority of the film relies on the enjoyment of watching these characters, and unfortunately the supporting ones are far more engaging than either Brandt or Mieke.
The decision to cast Plummer as the Kaiser was either the best or worst thing for the film, depending on your view. On one hand, each scene with Plummer is endlessly engaging, even when he is doing little more than feeding ducks. But the problem is that these brief scenes don’t take up a majority of the film, leaving audiences with far less compelling sequences led by Courtney and James. Not all of it is the fault of these less experienced actors, as their characters are as shamelessly underdeveloped as the relationship between them. Still, it is a telling problem when a supporting actor feeding ducks is more appealing than two attractive leads giving explicit nude scenes.
Ultimately, The Exception is a slow paced but highly watchable WWII espionage romance, but one that rarely innovates and is an easily forgettable film. The romance is helped little by the chemistry between the leads, and suffers even more from a screenplay that doesn’t put enough effort into explaining their attraction to each other beyond base physical desire. The suspense is even more wasted, with only fleeting moments where any of the characters feel in any real danger. Only the film’s drama remains successful, even if the most compelling characters are the ones most often resigned to the background of the narrative.
There are some pleasures to be found in the period production design enhanced by the high definition, but not nearly enough to require an enhanced presentation. For most, DVD will suffice just fine for this slow paced thriller. The Blu-ray comes with a Digital HD copy of the film, and a couple of special features on the disc. There is a generic promotional making-of featurette, as well as a commentary track with director David Leveaux.
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6.5/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 5/10