Image Entertainment // 2008 // 106 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Steve Power // September 7th, 2009
A story of survival and redemption unlike any other.
Adam Resurrected endeavors to show a different side of the holocaust than we've typically seen. Led by a fantastic performance from Jeff Goldblum (The Fly) and directed by Paul Schrader (Auto Focus), the film is a perplexing piece that grants us a peek into the mind of a survivor, and how time under the thumb of Nazi Germany affected life after the war for those who made it out of Germany. It's a unique and disturbing trip that carves its own niche.
When we first meet Adam Stein (Goldblum), it is 1961, and he's making a return trip to the Seizling Institute, a fictional asylum in the Israeli desert. As it happens, this particular Institute specializes in Holocaust survivors, endeavoring to help those scarred by the Nazi gulags and Death Camps during World War II. Adam is the asylum's star resident. He's been in and out, and a "cure" it seems, is simply out of his grasp. He's a fast talker, a man with special gifts which allow him to read people and manipulate his own body to a disturbingly inhuman degree. He is also incredibly unstable and unpredictable, spending his days grifting fellow residents and playing roles which range from financial advisor to messiah. Adam's tragic past, his pre-war days as a musician, entertainer, impresario, and magician, and his life at the hands of a cruel SS Commandant (Willem Dafoe, Spiderman) during the war, slowly unfurl as Adam's mind falls apart. The key to Adam's resurrection may rest in another resident of the Institute with a problem very similar to his own.
Holocaust movies seem to be the flavor of the month. 2008 saw no less than three entries into what is typically a sobering genre of filmmaking. These films take it upon themselves to remind us of the atrocities that one culture suffered at the hands of the World's greatest evil. I've gotten rather tired of it all, to be honest. After Schindler's List, no other film on the subject really seems necessary, and yet we get the manipulatively patronizing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and The Reader where the Holocaust trappings felt more like window dressing to add some impact rather than an important story element. Enter Adam Resurrected, to my immense surprise, a film that finally shows us something new about one of the darker periods of human history.
Where the film differentiates itself is in focusing on the emotional scars carried by those who survived their ordeals in Nazi gulags and death camps. There are no lingering shots of row upon row of emaciated figures in prison stripes with solemn eyes and sewn on stars. There are no gas chambers, hideouts, freedom fighters, noble factory owners or escape plans. This is a look at what the Holocaust did to the individual versus how it affected an entire race. This is a personal story of how one individual was affected by a torturous experience, and how they grew to overcome it. The non-linear plot progression, featuring interspersed black and white flashbacks to the war, slowly pulls the curtain back on Adam's experiences and gives you something to latch onto and root for, as he's one unlikeable bastard during the asylum scenes.
The entire film is anchored by Jeff Goldblum's performance, and this is really a career best from him. Goldblum plays the charismatic entertainer to perfection, but it's the subtle complexities of his fractured psyche that he really nails. Adam is a twisted character, ruined by his horrible experiences, and Jeff plays it emotionally naked. He takes huge leaps, going to very dark places. He shifts from charming, to funny, to somber, to detestable, all in a manner of beats. It's one of the most spirited and engaging portrayals I've seen in years and kept me glued to the screen where other elements might have failed. There were times when I pitied him, and times where I wanted to rip his larynx out with my bare hands. The supporting cast is there and they do an ample job playing considerably less developed characters who boarder on asylum cliché and yet are incredibly effective when being led on by Goldblum's Adam.
Anyone familiar with Paul Schrader will have no trouble with the tone of the film. Schrader seems to excel at seedy. Adam Resurrected definitely doesn't change my opinion of him. Parts of the film are very hard to watch. Much like another Schrader work, Auto Focus, certain aspects are relentlessly unsettling. Adam seems to be capable of doing things with his body that just freak me the hell out, and his sexcapades with the head nurse of the institute, played by the lovely Ayelet Zurer (Angels & Demons), go beyond "out there" into the realm of the shockingly disturbing. There are times where Schrader shoots and cuts like we're watching a psychological horror film, which only adds to the uneasiness. In all, everything runs at a pretty smooth pace and, just when you start to forget you're watching a holocaust film, something comes up to remind you with jarring force.
While one of the strengths of Adam Resurrected lies in its less than orthodox treatment of the Holocaust, the other half of the script equation -- the psychology -- is a little more suspect. Everything about the patient inmates of the Seizling Institute hearkens back to other films, and far too often the film veers into One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest territory with its lovable band of quirky, charming, and disturbing characters. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers in the field of mental health, and Adam Resurrected does too fine a job of laying out a character arc that is at once predictable and disappointing for the central character. His "cure" comes easy in the final act, weakening what has been a strong, if challenging film. While it doesn't completely ruin the experience, it certainly does let the air out of the tires. That said, if the ending had followed the tone of the first two acts, we would be looking at an A-grade depression fest on the scale of Requiem for a Dream.
The screener supplied by Image looked fine, with a nice clear (if a little soft) image, free from noise or pixelization, but the included 2.0 Stereo track was horribly muffled. I had the volume at almost twice the normal listening level and still lost some of the quieter moments. The retail release will probably contain a 5.1 mix. The only extra present was a theatrical trailer for the film, oddly enough presented in Dolby 5.1.
What would otherwise be a solid effort is elevated to a higher plane thanks to the amazing performance of Jeff Goldblum. Far from a crowd pleaser, it's a film that's sure to strike a chord. Whether that chord is one you want struck is another matter, but this is ultimately a holocaust film after all.
Goldblum is to be commended, and everyone else is free to go. Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R