Walking with the Enemy

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Walking with the Enemy Movie Poster Image
Cliches, subpar acting undercut effect of Holocaust drama.
  • PG-13
  • 2014
  • 126 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This is more than a good vs. evil story; it's also a story about courage under fire and the willingness to risk your own safety for the lives of innocent people.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Elek and his friends are incredibly brave to try to defend their people -- doing the unthinkable and pretending to be members of the SS. When one of Elek's friends is taken in for questioning, he refuses to divulge any information that could get anyone rounded up or sent to the concentration camps. The Hungarian Regent doesn't want to cooperate with the Nazis and tries to undermine the Germans' efforts to arrest and deport Hungarian Jews.

Violence

Lots of war/atrocity-related violence, but much of it is loud gunfire heard as the camera pans away at the last second. Audiences know that many, many civilians are getting shot, but they don't always see the actual bloodshed. The close-ups are rare, but they exist, including people getting shot (at both a sniper's distance and at close range), tortured, and nearly raped.

Sex

A few passionate kisses.

Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Nazis drink (and seemingly get buzzed) at officers' dinners. Jewish families drink ceremonial wine at Shabbat meal.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Walking with the Enemy is a drama set in World War II Hungary, right as the local authorities were forced to collaborate with the Nazis' efforts to deport the until-then relatively protected Jewish population. Inspired by a true story about a young Jewish man who posed as an SS officer, the movie is quite violent, although much of it is in the form of hearing loud gunfire, without the follow through of seeing the dead bodies. But there are some scenes when people are shot at close range; plus, a man is nearly tortured, a young woman is nearly raped, and people are executed both en masse and individually. Besides the violence, which never quite lets up throughout the movie, there's not much content of concern; expect a few passionate kisses and some incidental drinking by adult characters.

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What's the story?

WALKING WITH THE ENEMY was inspired by historical events during World War II. At the start of 1944, in the last full year of the war, Hungary -- a member of the Axis powers -- had managed to somehow keep their population of 800,000 Jews relatively safe compared to other European Jews. But as it becomes clear that Regent Miklos Horthy (Ben Kingsley) is trying to join the Allies, the Nazis occupy the country and put a known anti-Semite in charge, with the plan being to deport the entire Hungarian Jewish community to Auschwitz. After escaping a labor detail, Elek Cohen (Jonas Armstrong) returns to his family home, only to discover it appropriated by a local Christian family. Displaced and living with other Jews working with the Swiss to secure safe passage and documents, Elek eventually takes his resistance to the next level by disguising himself as an SS officer, an act that allows him to save many but puts him -- and his circle of friends -- in tremendous danger.

Is it any good?

The three interconnected stories about Hungary in the last year of the war are all compelling, but blended together in this melodramatic retelling, none of them is given quite the due it deserves. Kingsley is underused as Horthy, a fascinating historical figure who was an admitted Conservative and anti-Semite but who nonetheless refused to turn over Hungary's Jews until the very end of his time as regent, when Germany no longer trusted its ally to toe the Axis line. And the part of the movie about Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, who helped a reported 3,000 Hungarian Jews, is also under-explained, despite all the subtitles.

Instead, the movie focuses on Cohen, who's based on Pinchas Rosenbaum, a 21-year-old Hungarian Jew who really did disguise himself -- albeit as an Iron Cross soldier, not an SS officer -- during the war. His story is heartbreaking and worthy of recognition, but this movie plays out more like an overly sentimental melodrama than the poignant Holocaust drama it clearly wants to be. The amateurish performances by many of the supporting actors (so many terrible accents!), the overwrought score, and the cliche-filled dialogue make it difficult to invest in this movie. At the very least, Walking with the Enemy could foster interest in a little-depicted part of World War II.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why movies about World War II and the Holocaust like Walking with the Enemy are still being made. What connection do stories about these events have with today's world? Why is it important to understand history? How do movies help us do that?

  • Elek's bravery saved some but not others, and, in a couple of cases, his choices led to friends being killed. Do you think his decisions were justified?

  • Not only does Walking with the Enemy highlight the true story of the young Jewish man who disguised himself as an SS officer, but it also introduces viewers to the Hungarian leader who tried to resist the Nazi occupation and the Swiss official who tried to help Jews get Swiss passports. Which story did you find the most compelling? Does the movie make you want to learn more about these unsung heroes?

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