Reviewed April 21st, 2002 by David Nusair
Based on a true story, Uprising follows the attempts of Warsaw Jews in fighting back against the Nazis during the Second World War. And while good portions of it are completely riveting and compelling, a running time of close to three hours proves to be its eventual undoing.
Though the film follows the lives of several characters, Hank Azaria and Leelee Sobieski have the lions share of the screen time. Azaria stars as Mordechai, a rough and tumble denizen of the ghetto that encourages his fellow Jews to fight back (as opposed to being herded around like sheep). Sobieski plays Tosia, a young woman whose non-Semitic appearance makes her an ideal candidate for smuggling out maps and bringing in weapons. A whole host of other folks make up the rest of the neighborhood, including Friends star David Schwimmer as a cautious man who’d rather follow the rules rather than break them. Uprising documents their initial willingness to go along with the Nazi regime, which eventually turns into rebellion as they witness various atrocities committed by Hitler’s thugs.
Though it’s purportedly based on a true story, some elements seem fictionalized. While there’s no doubt that the Nazis were awful people, isn’t it at least possible that even a fraction of those fascist soldiers were just following orders? Every Nazi here is portrayed as evil incarnate, going so far as to casually murder a Jewish fiddler. The one-sided nature of the film is necessary, I suppose, given the extraordinary amount of people murdered under their regime. Still, the folks that comprise the Warsaw ghetto are awfully decent, free of flaws, which forces us to identify with them not as people but as victims-turned-fighters.
Despite this somewhat unreasonable complaint, Uprising does have some awfully tense and exciting moments. The various sequences detailing the plotting and eventual execution of their plan are extremely effective, as are Tosia’s attempts to cross the border. But it just winds up becoming too much of a good thing, as the film drags on until its inevitable conclusion. In all fairness, though, the movie never really becomes tedious until about the last half hour. With the remaining survivors trapped in a sewer, the constricting and claustrophobic atmosphere begins to wear thin.
There’s no denying that Uprising is exceedingly well made, however. Co-writer/director Jon Avnet has done a fantastic job of recreating this time period, from the ghetto in which our heroes reside to the massive amount of soldiers and tanks that come crashing through. And the actors are all quite good, with Azaria standing out above the rest. Though he’s proven his abilities as a comedic actor (and even dabbled in the dramatic field before, with his Emmy-award winning performance in Tuesdays with Morrie), Uprising proves he’s got the versatility to tackle virtually any role. He’s charismatic and tough, qualities that such a leader would need to possess.
Uprising, though flawed in a lot of ways, is still worth checking out if only to learn about a true-life inspirational tale.
Audio: Uprising is presented with a DD 5.1 soundtrack, and given that this is a made-for-TV flick, it’s reasonable not to expect much. But they’ve gone all out with this one, and this soundtrack is pretty stunning. Though the majority of the first half is dialogue, the second half contains a great deal of explosions and other war related aural effects. The disc handles them all very well, with the rear speakers getting quite a workout. Not bad for something that premiered on NBC!
Video: Ditto the 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer. This does not at all look like a typical non-theatrical release. Filmed in a jerky, documentary style, the image is virtually pristine – though it does get a little grain heavy during some of the darker sequences.
Extras: This two disc set actually contains a good number of extras. On the first disc, which houses the entire movie, we get two commentary tracks. The first features director Avnet. This is incredibly informative and amazingly enough, contains few quiet spots (this is a three hour movie, after all). Uprising was clearly a work of love for Avnet, and his passion for the film is easy enough to notice through his speaking. He talks about everything from his initial interest in the project to the casting to the logistics of filming such an epic story. This is a great track. The second commentary, while not as fascinating as the Avnet one, is just as entertaining. It features cast members Hank Azaria, David Schwimmer, Leelee Sobieski, and Jon Voight. While the three men were recorded together, Sobieski clearly wasn’t and only speaks when her character is on screen. Her comments are mostly limited to her feelings about her character and the whole situation. However, Schwimmer and Azaria clearly became good friends during the shoot, and their good-natured ribbing proves to be very entertaining. Voight will occasionally speak up, but this is Schwimmer and Azaria’s track. They do dispense quite a lot of info, so between this and the Avnet track, you’ll learn everything you ever wanted to know about the making of Uprising.
Moving onto the second disc, we’ve got a couple of documentaries. The first one, running around 18 minutes, covers the making of the movie. This features interviews with the director and stars, and they all explain what drew them to the project. Avnet gets the majority of the screen time here, and he talks about everything from his interests in the movie to the logistics of filming such an epic story. The next documentary, which runs just under 29 minutes, covers the historical aspect of the story. Through a mix of newsreel footage and interviews, we get a fairly thorough analysis of the true-life event. Interviewees include historians, actors, and even folks that fought in the ghetto. Finally, there’s a “promo” reel, which is basically a glorified trailer.
Conclusion: Uprising, though one-sided, is nevertheless an important story and this is a very well made movie.
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