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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.