Another hair-raising true story from the footnotes of World War II, Walking With the Enemy is a powerful piece of filmmaking that examines history and heroism with big-screen artistry, imagination and thrills. A riff on the similar Agnieszka Holland film Europa Europa, about a Jewish boy who pretended to be a German orphan, hiding in the Hitler Youth movement to survive the Nazis, this one is about a Hungarian Jew masquerading as a Nazi officer to save hundreds of his countrymen from the concentration camps. It’s an inspiration.
Walking With the Enemy ★★★
Written by: Kenny Golde
Set in Budapest in 1944, nine months before the Nazis invaded Hungary, a handsome young university student named Elek Cohen (a star-making role for Irish-born British actor Jonas Armstrong) made a courageous decision—to fight the indignity and humiliation of curfews, yellow stars and religious restrictions by returning to his village from the city and organizing a resistance. Finding his family deported to a labor camp and his hometown exiled into a ghetto, he brazenly steals a uniform from a dead Nazi, poses as a Gestapo officer and begins his own reign of terror aimed at the criminal invaders led by Nazi henchman Adolf Eichmann, enduring close shaves and near death until the arrival of the Russians in 1945.
Thirteen years later, having survived the insurmountable horrors of Hungarian genocide, he is living in New York City, married to his childhood sweetheart, and miraculously crowned a beloved international hero in his native Hungary and the world.
Based on the actual exploits of war hero Pinchas Rosenbaum, the story sometimes strains credulity but is never less than fascinating in its historical context. The Kenny Golde screenplay could provide more suspense, and there’s too much information about the forging of Swiss passports, the strategic diverting of trucks filled with Jews in the direction of safety, and the failed armistice between Russia and beleaguered Hungarian leader Regent Horthy (Ben Kingsley). The narrow escapes through machine-gun fire come narrowly close to seeming preposterous.
Still, the muscular direction by Mark Schmidt, the authentic locations in Bucharest, Romania, and the jubilant charisma of star-in-the-making Jonas Armstrong (who has already been discovered by Hollywood and co-stars next in a movie with Tom Cruise) are factors that separate Walking With the Enemy from the sterile, prepackaged Xeroxes that pass for war films today. Give this one a try. Its impact is special and inescapable.