Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 25, 2015)
Am I the only one who can't watch a movie without having multiple alternate images bop around in my noggin? No, I'm not discussing the voices in my head; they rarely relate directly to the film in question. I'm referring to connections the current presentation may have to other media.
Take The Boys From Brazil, for example. When I think of that film, I imagine one thing: a sketch on SCTV. That program featured a cooking show with a character named Angus Crock. On this particular episode, his guest was Gregory Peck as Joseph Mengele in Brazil. The part that stays with me is Peck staring at some beef and stating, "This roast is brown. It should be blue!" (It's a lot funnier when Joe Flaherty does it.)
The presence of Laurence Olivier also reminded me of a prior - and better - Nazi oriented film in which he starred. That would be 1976's Marathon Man, which presented the indelible image of Sir Larry knifing a guy in the jugular.
Despite all these competing influences, I managed to stick to the story of Brazil pretty well. Don't take my comment that Marathon Man is a better film to be a slam on this one, because it's not meant as such. Man was a fantastic piece of work, whereas Brazil is merely pretty good. There's nothing wrong with "pretty good," is there?
One thing I really liked about Brazil was the fact that it starred older actors. How often do we see films in which all of the major characters are old enough for Social Security?
Okay, I know those kinds of movies do happen, but not often in this kind of action/thriller setting. The old dudes are usually relegated to the more sedate settings of The Straight Story or Waking Ned Devine. It's also nice to have a break from movies that feature the elderly in which death always seems to be a predominant theme.
Of course, death is a factor in Brazil, but not due to natural causes. Without giving away too much of the story, it involves an intricate plot to eventually return Nazis to worldwide prominence. The story unfolds in a slow but suspenseful manner, and while the ultimate plot point becomes fairly predictable, it still packs a punch.
The story seems somewhat silly and improbable. The Nazi plan requires environmental manipulation that would never be possible, though the film creates a surface impression that it could work. Nonetheless, it's tense and exciting enough that I don't really care.
Again, a lot of this becomes due to the actors. I must admit that I don't care for a lot of Olivier's work in the film, as he tends to make Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman too much of a Jewish stereotype.
Despite that choice, Olivier still lends a fair amount of power to the role, and his overacting subsides as the film continues. Lieberman seems more real toward the end than he does during the previous acts. Maybe Olivier's acting isn't such a bad move after all, since this subtle alteration makes Lieberman seem more substantial and threatening when he needs to be. Well, I still think he feels too hammy for much of the film, but I can see these positives.
More consistently positive in my opinion is Peck as Mengele. He really portrays the menace and mania of Mengele, and he's a hoot to watch as well. There's something about that deadpan delivery of his that suits the character well, and he works out terrifically. Now if only I could stop thinking about that blue roast.
While I can't claim that The Boys From Brazil is a classic, it's definitely a compelling and entertaining ride. It's worth watching
just to see fun and physical performances from some great actors. How often do you get to see personalities like Olivier and Peck go at each other?