Film review: Invincible (2001), directed by Werner Herzog
For Invincible, we go back to 1932 and a little village in Poland, where a young, Jewish man called Zishe Breitbart (Jouko Ahola) and his 9-year-old brother Benjamin (Jacob Wein) are eating. Zishe gets taunted for being fat, brawling ensues, and Zishe smashes the place up with his surprising strength. The owner of the establishment wants him to pay for the damage caused, and suggests the young man takes on the strongman at the circus currently in town, as the prize money would cover the bills.
So, the young man goes to the circus and wipes the floor with their esteemed strongman. A talent agent hears of this and wants to take Zishe with him to Berlin, but Zishe prefers staying with his family. He’s perfectly happy with being a blacksmith and doesn’t feel the need to show off his muscles to anyone. Then, eventually, he decides to go to Berlin anyway, because he has a dream about a beautiful woman.
In Berlin, the talent agent puts him to work as a strongman at Hanussen’s Temple of the Occult, a mystic cabaret and variety performance. Hanussen (Tim Roth) dresses Zishe up in a blonde wig, gets him to wear silly clothes and performs his act as “Siegfried”, a good example of an Aryan. He also meets the woman from his dream – turns out she’s called Marta Farra (Anna Gourari, a classical concert pianist by trade) and is a Czech-born pianist … whom Hanussen doesn’t treat very well at all, to the kind-hearted Jewish giant’s dismay. I could delve into what happens there, but it would be to spoil things.
This movie is a rollercoaster ride – not so much emotionally, as other films are, but quality-wise. It was clear to me within the first minute of “FADE IN:” that we weren’t looking at good acting. A lot of other things, on the other hand, are good. The script is good, the scenery and clothing is good, the music score is good (Hans Zimmer was involved), and things like that, but with the acting … good grief.
To begin with, everyone speaks English with a varying degree of foreign accents. Gourari is Russian, Ahola is Finnish, and other actors are German and so on. And they all have those kind of accents. It takes some suspension of disbelief to get over the fact that a guy who speaks English with a pronounced Finnish accent is playing a Polish Jew speaking in German. Then throw in the Englishman Roth, with his impeccable English accent and it’s all a bit too funny.
I don’t know if it’s down to having to act in a different language, but while Ahola is a nice-looking man with impressive biceps, he’s … let’s just say he shouldn’t quit his day job and run off to Hollywood. He’s won both World’s Strongest Man and Europe’s Strongest Man twice – he won’t win any acting awards. In fact, I preferred him when he wasn’t speaking, because then there seemed to be a semblance of actual acting going on.
Tim Roth would be great as a vampire. In this, he’s wearing a cape and does stage hypnotism and cold readings, pretending to be a clairvoyant. I’m undecided about his performance. He’s probably the best actor in the whole film, but at times it just feels like he’s over-acting. Which is a shame.
The story itself, based on a true story, is remarkable. It’s touching, and at times, I was (figuratively) scratching my head trying to understand how Zishe could be that naive, and how his mother and brother could get away with visiting him in Berlin. Wouldn’t they be putting themselves in some serious danger? Although in 1932 the antisemitism hadn’t quite reached the levels they would some years later. Chilling to think about, nonetheless.
So in essence, it’s a tremendous film, very powerful, but the subplot of a potential romance gets a bit lost, and the lack of acting skills means that a film that could have been at least a 4.5/5 sadly can’t reach that far. Not when I feel physical pain as soon as anyone tries their mechanical and wooden lines so that I feel “ouch, I’m sure even I could do a better job than that! And I’ve never really done any acting in my life!” Unfortunately, Invincible can’t get more than an average rating, and that’s on the strength of everything except the actors themselves.
3 out of 5 white jellyfish.