Movie Guru: ‘Resistance’ shows a surprisingly nuanced performance from Jesse Eisenberg
When compiling lists of heroes of WWII, most people wouldn’t know to include French mime Marcel Marceau among them.
The new movie “Resistance,” which has been released on iTunes, Google Play, and other platforms along with whatever theaters are still open, hopes to change that fact. Anchored by a surprisingly nuanced performance from Jesse Eisenberg, the movie is an uneven but ultimately moving look at one man’s efforts to make a difference in the world. With plenty of moments that are far too applicable in today’s modern world, it’s not a bad way to spend a few hours of your self-isolation.
The movie opens on a Nazi atrocity, then moves to a young Marcel, who’s too focused on art to pay much attention to the early stirrings of war. When his brother and cousin recruit him to help entertain a group of recently rescued Jewish orphans, however, he slowly gets pulled deeper and deeper into efforts to help them. When the Nazi threat becomes too much to ignore, Marcel must use his art to save the lives of as many children as possible.
At first glance, this seems like the last sort of project Eisenberg should be cast in. He’s made his career as a twitchy, high-strung neurotic, (see: Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network”). There are moments in the beginning when you can see that in Marcel’s own artistic arrogance. But he also turns out to have a wonderfully expressive face, beautifully capturing the combination of mirth and melancholy that Marceau was so known for.
Though I’m not qualified to critique his miming skills, Eisenberg also manages to extend that same balance of solemnity and sweetness to the rest of his performance. He uses both to handle even the most unwieldy bits of dialogue and makes one scene where he’s encouraging a fellow resistance fighter into something deeply moving. Even if the movie doesn’t get much attention from audiences, it deserves to expand the kind of roles Eisenberg gets offered.
It helps, of course, that he’s working with some equally excellent cast members. Bella Ramsey, best known for her work on “Game of Thrones,” offers a killer performance as a young orphan named Elsbeth. Clémence Poésy does a masterful job with some extremely tough scenes as a fellow resistance fighter named Emma, and Karl Markovics has some moving moments of his own as Marcel’s father.
Unfortunately, the movie isn’t structured to let any of these performers shine the way they deserve to. There are a handful of longer stretches that really manage to develop the characters and engage the audience, but then they’ll be abruptly interrupted by a time skip that ruins the momentum. We hear what happened, but we don’t really get to see the characters grow.
They also spend too much time with the main villain of the story, Klaus Barbie, played by Matthias Schweighöfer. He’s a suitably terrifying representation of Nazi ideals, certain he’s the hero of the story instead of the monster, but he’s not who the movie is about. Schweighöfer’s performance is chilling enough that we would believe his evil with about half of the build-up scenes the movie ended up with.
Despite these flaws, “Resistance” still proves to be a movie worth watching. Even if it’s just to finally hear the surprisingly heroic history of the world’s greatest mime.
Rated R for some violence and a torture scene
Written and directed by: Jonathan Jakubowicz
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Ed Harris, Edgar Ramírez, Clémence Poésy, Matthias Schweighöfer, Bella Ramsey, Géza Röhrig, Karl Markovics and more
Grade: Two and a half stars out of four
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at email@example.com.