Fatherland (1994)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Fatherland</strong> (1994)

(On-demand video, March 2012) Trying to deliver alternate history on a TV-movie budget is a tough assignment, so it’s best to remain indulgent while tackling HBO’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ celebrated thriller.  A murder mystery set in an alternate 1964 in which the Nazis reign triumphant over Europe, Fatherland focuses on the investigation of an honest SS officer trying to figure out the common link between a number of murders.  The visual look of the film is intentionally dated, as if it was a sixties film rather than a mid-nineties TV production.  Given the budget, the viewer shouldn’t expect much in terms of alternate-universe eye-candy: many swastikas, two or three alt-Berlin matte paintings and a curiously disturbing scene in which Nazis have punch-card computers at their disposal.  Fatherland shares a number of problems with Harris’ novel: The entire story is built upon a revelation that the viewer already knows –a mark of some naiveté in the alternate-universe genre.   The construction of the story is also fairly standard, leaving to a number of imposed scenes in which the expected occurs in pretty much the accepted fashion.  But the film introduces a number of extra problems that make it worse and worse the closer it gets to a conclusion.  Not only does it dispense with the elegiac ending of the novel, but it tries to tries up all loose ends nicely with a fantastically improbable appeal to authority, and then with a twenty-years-later voiceover.  (It also features a divorced father trying to kidnap his kid away from his mother –but hey, that’s the moral leniency we’re supposed to give to protagonists.)  It amounts to a bit of a curiosity; a bog-standard thriller set in an unusual alternate-history framework, with some intriguing images along the way to a disappointing conclusion.  Rutger Hauer is fine as the lead detective, while Miranda Richardson is unexplainably annoying as the American journalist running around and getting in trouble by not showing a shred of cleverness.  But then again, that’s how the script goes: All ham-fisted exposition and transparent character emotions.  Fatherland is worth a look for the curiosity value, but it’s not exactly a good movie.

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