Varian's War (2001) starring William Hurt, Julia Ormond, Matt Craven, Maury Chaykin, Alan Arkin, Lynn Redgrave, Rmy Girard, Christopher Heyerdahl directed by Lionel Chetwynd Movie Review

Varian's War (2001)   3/53/53/53/53/5

William Hurt in Varian's War (2001)

Fry's List

Whilst in Berlin during 1938 Varian Fry (William Hurt - Lost in Space) saw first hand the mistreatment of Jews at the hands of the Nazi's and was unsettled by what he saw. Back in America he finds a surprising amount of resistance and some anti-Semitism to his idea that they should try and assist artists stuck in Europe to escape but finds an ally in First lady Eleanor Roosevelt (Sheena Larkin) who intervenes when the State Department tries to block his plans to head to Europe to start tracking down names of notable artists, many Jews, and helping them escape. Even when he arrives in Marseille he is shocked to discover opposition amongst some of those he wants to help but also finds some allies including Miriam Davenport (Julia Ormond - Legends of the Fall) and forger Freier (Alan Arkin - Gattaca).

"Varian's War" is the sort of movie which can blow you away because of the true story it tells. And the story of Varian Fry is worthy telling having set up an organisation which ended up helping over 2000 people escape from Nazi occupied France during WWII. But as a movie reviewer I have to say that whilst a powerful story the movie itself is not up scratch, not that it is bad but doesn't do the true story justice. Not only that, it makes one fatal error and that is never to explain why the plan started with helping those within the arts to escape, we never get to understand why they should deserve special treatment over a teacher or anyone else.

Julia Ormond in Varian's War (2001)

Now not telling the audience the reasoning behind the idea to rescue artists is a major issue but also is the way the story is told. Here is a story about a daring plan to rescue Jews and escort them over the mountains into Spain. It was full of danger, secret codes and everything else you can imagine was necessary to bring about this secret evacuation whilst all the time having the threat of being caught and most likely death hanging over them. But none of that danger or atmosphere materialises with instead "Varian's War" ending up a wordy drama where we watch Varian meet various people, some helpful, some not whilst also interviewing various people who they plan to help. Maybe the limitations of a made for TV budget scuppered the production but something simply feels lacking.

I could go on because in order to mould the true story into a reasonable length movie some poetic licence has been required. In some places it is acceptable as it is impossible to tell a true story accurately but in other places especially when it comes to characters it is not as acceptable.

Despite this the one thing which "Varian's War" definitely has going on for it is the calibre of the cast. William Hurt, Julia Ormond, Maury Chaykin, Matt Craven and Alan Arkin all do well to bring drama to their characters even when their characters don't feel exactly right.

What this all boils down to is that "Varian's War" tells an important story and one which deserved to be made into a movie so more people would know about it. But the end product does not do it justice, failing to achieve the right atmosphere for a story which was full of danger.