Winter in Wartime
‘Winter’ a well-told WWII story
Well-mounted and expertly played, “Winter in Wartime’’ is a class act that lacks only focus and originality to raise it above the ordinary. But if you’re a fan of opulent WWII-era Resistance dramas told from the European side of the equation — films like “Black Book’’ (2007) or “Flame and Citron’’ (2009) — you’ll probably want to add it to your queue.
Adapting a 1972 young adult novel by Dutch writer Jan Terlouw, director Martin Koolhoven gives us a coming-of-age story set in a pressure cooker. It’s the waning days of the war and the Nazi occupiers are losing; this only makes them more dangerous, and it makes the teenage hero, Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) desperate to get into the game. When he discovers a downed British airman named Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower) living in the woods, the kid protects him and helps plot his escape, acting as mature as he can while treating the flier rather like a large stray dog to be hidden from the grown-ups.
There’s the potential for rich psychological head games here, and “Winter in Wartime’’ flirts with them before giving itself over to contrivances. The script casts a tart eye on the ethical balancing acts of a small Dutch town in late wartime, as everyone has to choose up sides for the endgame. Some make their decisions quickly: Michiel’s nurse sister, Erica (Melody Klaver), takes one look at handsome Jack and knows where her loyalties lie.
The older generation is harder to read, including the boy’s Resistance hero Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen), and his less glamorous father, Johan (Raymond Thiry). The latter, the village mayor, is detested by his son as a Nazi collaborator, even as we in the audience understand that Johan may be working to keep as many people alive as possible. Gray areas are for adults, and when “Winter in Wartime’’ is cooking, it hints at the youthful tragedy of thinking in black and white.
The film overruns its obvious climax, though, and keeps going into clichéd twists and turns that weaken the impact on a scene by scene basis. By the end of “Winter in Wartime,’’ we’ve been both caught up and let down, held by a good story reasonably well told and disappointed by a great story that got away.
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.