The opening black and white prologue (a combination of stock footage and newly shot material) and laconic male narrator set the tone perfectly. In explaining the recent history of Germany's victory and the intervening years since then (the film is set approximately 20 years after WWII) it comes across like an episode of the landmark World At War documentary series. This prologue, and indeed the entire film, are perfectly aided by Gary Cheng's emotional and mood-setting score. Rutger Hauer is on fine form as the SS policeman who, unlike his estranged son, prefers to say 'grace' rather than praise the Fuhrer at meal times. Hauer is drawn into a web of deceit when he keeps finding the dead bodies of senior Party officials scattered around his patch. After being warned by superiors not to dig deeper his lapsed faith in the Reich spurs him onward and into Miranda Richardson who is covering the summit meeting for her US newspaper. The two join forces in a believable enough manner and discover that the executions orders come from the pinnacle of the State - aimed at silencing anyone with inside knowledge of The Final Solution.
This made-for-cable HBO production is littered with English character actors, including Jean Marsh, and the performances are broadly all top notch. The directing, steady if not thrilling, nevertheless does offer a few chilling moments. Perhaps because the plot is relatively complex (it certainly touches on many subjects and themes), the pacing is, to put it politely, sedate, and this is the film's major shortcoming. The structure of the script makes watching this feel more like viewing the edited highlights from a much longer mini-series; and although I've never been that enthusiastic about the mini-series format, Harris' sprawling story would certainly have benefited from that approach. Nevertheless, still worth seeing. 7/10
Rob Dyer (July 2003)
Philadelphia Experiment II
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