Christopher Plummer’s lone Oscar was a career achievement award and I think the man has been criminally underrated in his career.
“The Exception” is a romantic drama set in the early years of World War II. The plot follows a young Nazi officer (Jai Courtney) who is sent to keep an eye on the exiled German Emperor Wilhelm II (Plummer), only to fall in love with one of his maids (Lily James). David Leveaux makes his feature film directorial debut after a career in stage work.
I love me a WWII-set drama. Even when the films themselves may be a bit underwhelming (“Allied”), the setting and production design usually sucks me into what is one of my favorite time periods in human history. Things are no different here, as while certain aspects of the film fail to deliver as much as they’d like, the setting, and a subtly brilliant performance by Christopher Plummer, make this one worth checking out.
Like I said up top, although he finally won an Oscar for “Beginners,” I feel Christopher Plummer doesn’t get the love he deserves. He quietly steals the show in films like “Inside Man” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and the 87-year-old is masterful again here. Plummer brings a sense of warmth to the Kaiser and I cherished every scene he was in. He makes you sympathize with him without feeling pity, relate without empathizing.
Following a surprisingly solid performance in “Suicide Squad,” Jai Courtney again shows that perhaps he can in fact act after all. There’s a running joke that Courtney is a bland and charismatic-less actor who Hollywood has tried to shove down our throats following top billing in big-budget blockbusters like “A Good Day to Die Hard” and “Terminator: Genisys,” but I have to hand it to Courtney: he does a surprisingly nimble job here. Playing a Nazi with dark past and conflicting loyalties, Courtney never over-acts or makes you roll your eyes, which at this point in his career is a compliment.
Mostly taking place in Wilhelm’s mansion, the production design is a solid recreation of 1940 Netherlands. German cars and Nazi banners roam the grounds while chipped paint and rusted bedframes fill the bedrooms; much like the film’s performances the attention to detail is subtle but appreciated.
Where the film falters is its execution of its narrative. The film reveals that there is a British spy somewhere on the grounds and it is Courtney’s job to find them; however instead of building to some great twist, the culprit is revealed in the first 20 minutes. The romance between Courtney and James never fully feels fleshed out or earned, either, as they share just a few scenes together and we are to believe they fall in love over several days simply because they slept together.
“The Exception” is far from the best World War II film (it’s not even the best WWII romance to be released in the past year) and it is certainly forgettable. Normally a romantic thriller that struggles with both its romance and its thrills would turn out to be a disaster; however if you appreciate the time period and some fine performances, including a stunning Christopher Plummer, then I think this film may be an exception to the rule.
Critics Rating: 6/10