Movie Review: ‘THE EXCEPTION’ aims for moral complexity, hits clichés instead

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Kip Mooney // Film Critic

THE EXCEPTION
Rated R, 107 minutes.
Director: David Leveaux
Cast: Lily JamesJai CourtneyChristopher Plummer and Janet McTeer

Writers of novels, mini-series and movies can’t help but explore every facet of World War II, even if it’s already been covered – get ready for competing Winston Churchill biopics and Reinhard Heidrich assassination thrillers – or it’s mostly fictional, like THE EXCEPTION.

Based on the novel THE KAISER’S LAST KISS, S.S. officer Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney) is sent to take over as the personal bodyguard for Kaiser Wilhelm (Christopher Plummer), who has been exiled to the Netherlands. Now, I don’t need to tell you about the huge gulf in acting talent between Courtney and Plummer, but Courtney acquits himself best he can while Plummer is giving his usual masterclass.

Complicating the assignment is the German invasion of the Kaiser’s new country and rumors of a spy in the house. Brandt also violates the first rule he’s given after being there less than a day: don’t sleep with any of the house staff. But he’s immediately infatuated with Mieke (Lily James), a gorgeous new maid with lots of secrets.

This is all meant to be a sexy, edge-of-your-seat thriller. While long-time theatre director David Leveaux pulls off the sexy part, the thrills and interaction are all things we’ve seen before. You’ll see plenty of shots of people looking over their shoulders and closing doors before breathing a sigh of relief. A chase scene at the climax offers nothing new. Throughout, characters lie in bed, smoking and talking about the hard lives they’ve lived.

The scariest scene in the whole film is a taut dinner with the visiting Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan), who casually drops anecdotes about experiments in murdering disabled children. Even for an actor of Marsan’s size, he plays each terrifying note exactly right.

There’s a scene toward the end of the film when Brandt receives a copy of Nietchze’s Beyond Good and Evil and it becomes clear that the movie had loftier intentions about moral and ethical dilemmas when in service of bad people and worse people. But the movie never quite gets there. That would have made it stand out as a complex drama. Instead, this is a perfectly adequate World War II story that features one tremendous performance and little else.

Grade: B-

THE EXCEPTION opens this Friday, June 30 at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas — and is also available on DirecTV Cinema.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.