Christopher Plummer, Jai Courtney, Lily James, Janet McTeer, and Eddie Marsan DIRECTED BY
David Leveaux SCREENPLAY
Simon Burke MPAA RATING
Rated R RUNNING TIME
107 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
A24 OFFICIAL WEBSITE
"The Exception" Opens in Fort Wayne, IN on July 7th
David Leveaux, an English stage director, proves he's an actor's director with The Exception, an involving yet overly disciplined World War II thriller that is equal parts period romance and action thriller following Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney), a German soldier on a mission to investigate exiled German Monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer). The Kaiser is holed up in a secluded mansion in The Netherlands, but as Germany is taking over Holland the country's leaders become increasingly concerned that Dutch spies are eyeing the Kaiser. As Brandt makes his way into Wilhelm's inner circle as a member of the Kaiser's security detail, he becomes increasingly involved with Mieke (Lily James), one of the Kaiser's maids who is discovered to be harboring at least one serious secret. When Heinrich Himmler decides to pay a visit, the stage is set for a tense, dramatic showdown where everyone's allegiances are tested.
There's nothing particularly unique or stand-out about The Exception, though it is a consistently entertaining and involving drama that never quite achives the tension-filled heights that would allow it to soar yet also never loses our attention. The Exception features the best work of Jai Courtney, an often misused actor too frequently relegated to mindless action flicks, who here possesses a stoic romanticism that fits his character and the period in question quite nicely. Plummer, continuing his career resurgence as of late, is clearly the centerpiece of The Exception despite the fact that the Kaiser is, for the most part, a secondary character to Courtney's Brandt and Lily James's mysterious and intriguing Mieke.
It's an odd challenge for a film when your central characters are a Nazi, a monarch with anti-semitic tendencies, and a woman whose mysteries are really pretty obvious to everyone except those immediately around her. Somehow, The Exception makes it all work.
The Exception is based upon Alan Judd's 2003 novel The Kaiser's Last Kiss, though the inevitable editing required to adapt for screen compromises Judd's more suspenseful and tension-filled work. Making his feature film directing debut, Leveaux proves adept at giving the actors room to patiently explore their characters and framing shots in such a way to build the story's paranoia and suspense. There's an inherent paranoia when dealing with a Nazi theme, a knowledge that Leveaux seems to quietly build upon alongside the expert lensing of D.P. Roman Osin.
The chemistry between Courtney and James is believable, their intimacy enhanced by Leveaux's decision to spotlight both male and female nudity in a nature, relaxed way. However, the film ultimately belongs to the extraordinary Christopher Plummer, whose spin as the Kaiser immediately lights up the screen every time he appears. Janet McTeer is a gem as the Kaiser's wife, especially near film's end, while Eddie Marsan portrays low-key evil uncomfortably well as Himmler.
It should be noted that The Exception doesn't aim for historical accuracy, aiming instead for a relevant story told incredibly well. While it never quite compels on the level one might expect, The Exception is a quiet little dramatic film with moments of genuine suspense and actors who rise above Simon Burke's occasionally stilted dialogue yet involving story.