SWING KIDS takes place in 1930s Hamburg, as the Nazis consolidate power. Three teens -- Peter (Robert Sean Leonard), Thomas (Christian Bale), and Arvid (Frank Whaley) -- are "Swing Boys," devoted followers of the music, dance, and style of swing music. They grow their hair long, learn all the dances, and buy black-market copies of records by Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and Django Reinhardt. They also reject Nazi propaganda and stand up to Hitler Youth bullies. But their lives change when Peter, incensed at the blatant corruption of a Nazi officer who he witnessed slapping his mother (Barbara Hershey) while trying to blackmail sexual favors from her, decides to steal a radio the officer took from the ransacked home of a "traitor" as a gift for Arvid. Peter is caught by the police, and is only spared persecution due to the intercession of Herr Knopp, a high-ranking Gestapo officer who is also attracted to his mother. In exchange, Peter must join the Hitler Youth. Thomas then signs up to join in solidarity with Peter, and the two hope to go under the radar and remain Swing Boys at heart, despite the Nazi uniforms. But this begins to change when they see a legendary Swing Kid named Emil (Noah Wiley) who has now clearly embraced Nazi doctrine. Blinded by the power, prestige, and material gifts he is given, Thomas begins to also subscribe to the racist propaganda they are exposed to day in and day out. On the opposite end, Arvin is disgusted by what they have become, and refuses to compromise his values, even when his left hand is crushed while attacked by Emil and other Hitler Youth thugs, severely limiting his ability to play guitar. As Herr Knopp tries to emerge as the father figure Peter lost when his own father, a musician and Communist, died seven years prior by Nazi persecution and torture, as his mother simply wants to get along to go along, and Thomas becomes more and more brutal and fanatical in his transformation from a Swing Kid to a full-fledged Nazi, Peter must decide if he will conform to the evils around him, or remain true to himself, even if it means getting sent to work camps or even death.