Arts & Culture

Review: The Counterfeiters

Markovics plays Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch, a character based on the real-life Russian Jew and world-class counterfeiter Salomon Smolianoff who had the misfortune of being captured by the Nazis during World War II. Like the real-life Smolianoff, Sorowitsch is eventually given … Read More

By / May 12, 2008

Markovics plays Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch, a character based on the real-life Russian Jew and world-class counterfeiter Salomon Smolianoff who had the misfortune of being captured by the Nazis during World War II. Like the real-life Smolianoff, Sorowitsch is eventually given special treatment in the Sachenhausen camp to mass-counterfeit the pound sterling and the dollar.

Throughout this Oscar-award winning film, Markovics never lets that scowl leave his face, even when he cracks a half-smile. Sally's abject refusal to let his guard down, whether at a Monte Carlo poker table or facing the humiliation of having an SS agent urinate on him, forms the core of The Counterfeiters, one of the most daring, innovative Holocaust films ever made. As Spielberg proved, it's easy to hate monstrous Nazi guards and sympathize with abused prisoners. It's much harder to depict a Jew in a camp who's just as Machiavellian as the guards, and it's even harder to depict the S.S. as a pathetic, almost Keystone Kops-esque set of mental weaklings.

It's true that there is much in this movie that will initially dismay the Jewish viewer. The unusually multi-dimensional approach to the Nazis may alienate some who reject any shred of humanity in Nazism altogether. The movie's implicit thesis that, no matter who you are, in a life-or-death situation like World War II your principle motivation is going to be your own survival, will dismay those of us who prefer death-defying moral heroics. All I can say to these points is: watch the film.

There's a payoff for watching The Counterfeiters to the end. It turns out that Sally, who seems willing to do anything to survive, actually has a political conscience. He not only picks the right moment to fight back, but reveals that he had been orchestrating the right moment almost from the onset. This is a different, perhaps more contemporary, kind of heroism.

The cat-and-mouse metaphor for the Holocaust is nothing new, but The Counterfeiters may be the first film to effectively and fairly depict a Jew as the cat. It well deserves the Oscar.