Jesse Eisenberg is very good in Resistance, but ultimately the film is a reminder that a Mime is a terrible thing to waste.
Resistance is so frustratingly formulaic it draws comparisons to last year’s criminally overrated stinker, Harriet. While not nearly as ridiculous as that film’s inane script and soap opera quality cinematography, Jonathan Jakubowicz’s film has been moving genre parts that don’t necessarily work the way they should. It unsuccessfully attempts to balance legendary performance artist Marcel Marceau’s start as a young actor to a key member of the French resistance attempting to drive out the Nazi presence in France. When it eventually does hit its stride and main focus, the film, unfortunately, already boxed itself in.
Jesse Eisenberg (The Art of Self-Defense) plays Marcel Mangel, before he was Marcel Marceau, a butcher’s son, trying to be the next Charlie Chaplin in his free time and break away from his father’s business. He finds himself caught up in a group of young revolutionaries; he is determined to take on the Nazis and its ruthless leader, Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighöfer), a Gestapo agent in charge of cleansing the country of its enemies. While fighting the German presence, Mangel, his girlfriend Emma (Clémence Poésy), and his cousin Georges (To Dust’s Géza Röhrig) start to help smuggle Jewish orphans across the French border and into Switzerland to escape certain death.
Director Jonathan Jakubowicz’s film is a biographical drama that is a victim of its own ambition and turns into a formula film to get the film’s script out of its predicament. The film has elements that work — for instance, the opening and closing scenes of Ed Harris playing General George Patton introducing Marceau to entertain his troops have added weight and are historically accurate. By the time the film gets there, his art brings deeper meaning and obviously comes from a place of having to stay silent publicly and remain silent to avoid the Nazi troops.
When the film doesn’t work is when it attempts to create multiple composite characters to create romance and melodrama when the real story was enough to be interesting. The script should have focused more time on Marceau’s preparation before his performance and after. If Eisenberg could have shown a deep reflection on the journey and using his memory to tell the tale through flashbacks, it would have brought the film a better structure, taken away its disjointed narrative, and spent less time on his previous acting career.
Resistance does begin to create a decent amount of suspense when it plans its first attack and when attempting to sneak its orphans away. The real credit should be given to Eisenberg, who is very good here, whether it’s entertaining his kids like Guido Orefice in Life is Beautiful, leading them through snow-covered mountains to a better life, like Marie von Trapp in The Sound of Music, that brings honor to an artist who was an extraordinary hero who influenced his own field through his heroism.
Ultimately, Resistance is a film that attempts to honor a man with a back story many people today have forgotten or know nothing about. It didn’t have to create melodrama to sell the viewer on the power of its own story or use it to tell a story about three real-life people (Marceau, Barbie, Loinger). It’s recommendable to a point of wanting viewers to watch to see Eisenberg’s turn that honors a man’s heroism but ultimately fumbles away a chance to tell it the right way, including how the events transformed his performance art.
It’s a shame really because a Mime is a terrible thing to waste — especially the heroic one.
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M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.