The incredible true story of Pinchas Tibor Rosenbaum rates, unfortunately, as a footnote in history despite his remarkable achievements. During WWII, Rosenbaum risked his life in the face of terrible evil, to save the lives of others by impersonating a Nazi officer. In many ways, Rosenbaum's willingness to put himself in harm's way will remind audiences of Schindler's List, but as the harrowing film Walking with the Enemy shows, the danger he faced was even greater.
Directed with big budget panache by Mark Schmidt, Walking with the Enemy does justice to a tale that demands to be told, even as the story struggles to get off the starting blocks. Rising star Jonas Armstrong, who some may recognize from BBC's Robin Hood series, plays Elek Cohen (a Rosenbuam analogue, basically), a Hungarian Jew who stood against the Nazi invasion of Hungary in 1944. Initially captured and sent to a labor camp with his family, the hot-headed Elek escapes, only to return to discover everyone he knew is gone or dead. It's then that he makes the decision to rebel, joining a group that offers government protection certificates to Jews that we know the Nazis won't honor, but are all the people have to comfort them. Elek also finds love with Hannah (the excellent Hannah Toiten), who aids in the burgeoning rebellion.
It's while distributing these certificates that Elek begins to cross paths with leaders in the Nazi regime, ultimately acquiring an S.S. uniform and using the power it gives him to wage war from the inside. Using his newfound authority, Elek brazenly confronts Nazi soldiers who are rounding up and killing Jews. While some of these situations border on the hysterically preposterous, such as his frequent run-ins with an especially brutal officer, there's nevertheless a great deal of tension when he's undercover. The ever-present threat gets worse as Elek is forced to make increasingly questionable ethical choices, often choosing between blowing his cover and the rescue of innocents. As the war begins to wind down and the Nazis grow more violent in their desperation, Elek finds it difficult to maintain his sanity with chaos erupting everywhere.
Armstrong, who has a role opposite Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow coming up, captures Elek's determination and growing paranoia. He also finds good chemistry with Toiten in the few quiet scenes the two get to share. However, Kenny Golde's script spends too much time on subplots that may be interesting to read about, but don't necessarily make for an entertaining film. Proving that he can't say no to any role, Ben Kingsley turns up as Hungarian regent Miklos Horthy, who tried and failed to negotiate an armistice with the Soviet Union. Kingsley's veteran presence is a nice touch, but those scenes hold little value to Elek's story which is compelling, morally complex, and worthy of our complete attention.
For more on Walking with the Enemy, check out my review with star Jonas Armstrong by going here.