Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Bob Balaban, Hannah Taylor Gordon, Michael Jeter, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Liev Schreiber, Nina Siemaszko
Written by: Peter Kassovitz, Didier Decoin, based on a book by Jurek Becker
Directed by: Peter Kassovitz
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence and disturbing images
Running Time: 120
Date: 09/16/1999

Jakob the Liar (1999)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Liar's' Price

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I'm happy to report that Jakob the Liar isn't nearly as bad as the TV ads make it look. From a glance it looks like Roberto Benigni's more streamlined Life Is Beautiful (1998) crossed with Good Morning Vietnam (1987) with a little Patch Adams (1998) thrown in for luck. But instead Jakob the Liar blesses Williams with one of his more restrained performances, reminiscent of his work in The World According to Garp (1982), Moscow on the Hudson (1984), and Good Will Hunting (1997). He plays Jakob, a Jewish man in Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII. Jakob's village has been converted to a ghetto. The villagers' children as well as all of their creature comforts (radios, newspapers, etc.) have been taken away. Jakob gets called into the commandant's office and overhears the news on a German radio: the Russian army is advancing. The news spreads fast through the ghetto and everyone begins believing that Jakob has a hidden radio (an object that would mean certain death if found). Unable to convince anyone that he doesn't have a radio he begins making up the news to give the others hope. At the same time, a little girl (Hannah Taylor Gordon) who has escaped from a concentration camp-bound train hides out with Jakob.

I expected tons of grandstanding, speeches, swirling cameras, and worse, sentimental moments between Williams and the little girl. But Jakob the Liar reels it in and walks the fine line that this material requires. It also has a very strong cast, including Alan Arkin, Bob Balaban, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Liev Schreiber. It's no Schindler's List (1993), but with Williams as executive producer, Jakob the Liar emerges as an earnest and commendable attempt to bring this horrible history to the screen once again, so that it may never be forgotten.

Best Buy Co, Inc.