The Grey Zone

The Grey Zone ★★★★★

The word “masterpiece” is so often overused to the point where it has lost much of its meaning when describing great works of cinema. There are less than 50 films I’ve ever seen that I would give a full five stars and consider a full-blown masterpiece, so the word itself and that rating does not lose its significance. Tim Blake Nelson’s The Grey Zone is most certainly a masterpiece and by far the greatest narrative film I’ve ever seen depicting the Holocaust.

Most Holocaust films like Schindler’s List, The Pianist and Life is Beautiful offer, through all the mass murder, carnage and man-made hell, a ray of hope and light at the end of the tunnel, that helps us survive the viewing experience. The Grey Zone denies us this catharsis and Tim Blake Nelson’s extremely realistic, almost documentary-like direction forces us to witness the unabridged terror of Hitler’s Nazi regime, showing us in visceral detail, the charred corpses, the brutal executions, and the cold, matter-of-fact way the Nazis go about committing these atrocious crimes, as if were almost as natural and mundane to them as breathing.

Rather than focus on a “good German” Nazi industrialist who saved Jews, or a Polish pianist who escaped detection and hid in the ghettoes, or a father who tries and succeeds at protecting his young son’s innocence, this film forces us the viewer to endure the industrialised killing machine of Auschwitz through the perspective of the Sonderkommando, a group of Jewish prisoners who regretfully assist the Nazi mass murder machine in order to be spared from their murderous wrath. This is by far the most accurate a film has ever come to depicting the hopelessness and unsurvivable terrors that the Nazis inflicted upon millions of innocent people.

David Arquette, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel and many others give career-best performances in Nelson’s seminal but criminally under-seen masterpiece. I am still struggling to recollect the film I just saw. It is hard to describe in words. As more and more Holocaust survivors succumb to old age and pass away, we must have films like these to preserve and show us with full force the importance of honouring those who endured this terrible evil.

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