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'The German Doctor' review: Operating on the inconclusive

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The German Doctor

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"The German Doctor" begins its theatrical run in Houston starting today at Sundance Cinemas.

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In Patagonia in 1960, a strange German man takes a peculiar liking to an Argentine family, particularly the 12-year-old daughter named Lilith (Florencia Bado); a young girl who is extremely short for her age and mocked for it by her classmates. The man shows a background as a doctor and becomes a semi-permanent resident at the family's hotel by moving in two weeks before it opens and paying in advance.

While the father Enzo (Diego Peretti) is always on edge around the doctor, his wife Eva (Natalia Oreiro) begins to trust him as Lilith slowly develops a bond with him. In actuality, the man is actually Josef Mengele (played by Alex Bredemuhl), one of the world's most wanted criminals. Dodging authorities for years, Josef has never been caught by the Israeli agents who continue to hunt him. Based on a true story, "The German Doctor" is the story of a man taking advantage of and taking refuge behind an unsuspecting family.

Josef's research is really uncomfortable during the first half hour or so of "The German Doctor." He's constantly surveying Lilith by admiring her with a smirk from afar and even creepily strokes the hair of Lilith's doll Wakolda after it's dropped into the dirt. An uncomfortable relationship develops between the two that is forbidden right from the start and yet never really goes the way that you may be expecting.

The unveiling of Josef's (he slides into the persona of Helmut Gregor throughout the picture) journal is where things get interesting. Josef writes about the things that interest him and accompanies his thoughts with some very detailed and sometimes disturbing sketches. He targets young girls and pregnant women and notes their irregularities. He sees Lilith as a perfect specimen with imperfect measurements. As an expert of growth hormones, Josef is eager to test the hormones on humans after seeing results in cattle and Lilith is the perfect candidate.

As Josef convinces Lilith that he can "make her normal" and he seemingly begins to start caring for Eva's pregnancy and imminent birth, Enzo becomes the voice of unique character traits and being different. There's this constant clash of modern (as far as 1960 is concerned) medicine versus not changing who you are as an individual that's semi-interesting.

Enzo is also a doll maker who has several prototypes revolving around his desire to create a doll with a beating mechanical heart. Josef swoops in and not only brings that doll to fruition but sends it into production and creates a demand for them solely because they're unique despite all of them being flawless replicas of one another. The parallels to Hitler's dream of creating a world filled with nothing but blonde haired and blue eyed people is also partially intriguing.

However, nothing "The German Doctor" has to offer goes anywhere. It has all of these fascinating elements including a mysterious drug being tested on a little girl, a ghost-like man who seems to be hiding from something, a hotel owner who dreams of making the perfect doll while encouraging imperfections in his children, and a photographer who is also a spy for the Israeli government. But all of the leads the film has going for it just trail off. Nothing is very exciting and there's no tension established anywhere or an engaging thrill in the hunt of a known fugitive.

"The German Doctor" has the elements of a gripping thriller yet is never able to fully capitalize on piecing it all together into a worthwhile film. The performances are bland, plot points seem to lead to dead ends, and the misleading build to something that never comes is frustrating. "The German Doctor" is a prime example of disappointing cinema.

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