After a long day, I sat down to enjoy my evening tea and looked for a film to watch. I brought up the On Demand listings and saw this title, The Exception. It had all of the elements that I look for. It was a World War 2 espionage thriller, had an interesting premise and had two stars that I enjoy watching; Lily James and Christopher Plummer. What could possible go wrong? I push the button and completed my purchase, so imagine to my horror when Jai Courtney is the first character I see. Now, to those who know me, I have not been the biggest fan of this guy or his acting. Only in Suicide Squad and in his small role in Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner has he shown any sparks of talent as an actor, to me anyway. His track record has not been well received so I was immediately skeptical of just how good he would be in The Exception. To make matters worse, he is the lead actor in this film. Oh, boy.
The Exception tells the story of a Danish resistance fighter who goes undercover at a Kaiser’s estate, as a servant. Mr. Courtney is Captain Stefan Brandt, a disgraced NAZI officer who has been relegated to security for the Kaiser, Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer). Wilhelm II also has had his title stripped away as part of the Armistice agreement at the end of World War I. Wilhelm now survives on a generous allowance paid to him by the German government. He now spends most of his days, grousing about getting his title back. Brandt is equally disgruntled being stuck on this estate with virtually nothing to do. He takes a liking to one of the servant girls named Mieke (Lily James) and the two start to have an affair, even though it is forbidden at this estate.
When it is revealed that secret radio transmissions are being broadcast somewhere on the estate and the nearby town, additional security is brought in, mainly the dreaded Gestapo as well as SS troops. To make matters worse, Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) will be paying a visit in order to decide whether or not Wilhelm II is worthy enough to have his official title reinstated. Wilhelm’s loose lips and outspoken anger at the German high command and the present company at the estate make all of the positive outcomes to be unlikely. All the while a possible Danish spy is constantly avoiding being discovered. As if this wasn’t enough the overbearing wife of Wilhelm, Hermine (Janet McTeer) seems to have a mouth that never ceases to close, either. Tensions are high, needless to say.
Getting past my disappointment with the faulty advertising of The Exception, the film seemed to progress very little. With all of this activity at the estate, the story starts slow and stays that way for about the first forty-five minutes. But then something started to happen. These character began to wear on me. I grew interested in what happen to them and I was engaged in their stories. Courtney and James make an interesting couple and the film throws some curves, as well. But at the heart of this film is the love relationship of Courtney and James. Both are unsure of each other. They know what is at stake it they are caught, yet they don’t seem to care. But are they playing each other for fools? The Exception is a slow boil and this film relies on the characters to drive the story. This is the way to tell a story.
Based on the novel, “The Kaiser’s Last Kiss” by Alan Judd, Simon Burke has adapted script in a clever fashion, making it dark, mysterious and piquant. Courtney is actually quite good as Brandt as is Lily James. They have an oddly effective chemistry that works well within the film and it is the strongest element of The Exception. Christopher Plummer, who is 87 and still knocking homeruns out of the park, delivers another stellar performance as the Kaiser. At first glance, it would seem that he has lost his moral center but Plummer does an outstanding job of balancing the internal battle within himself. Sure he wants his title back, but at what cost? The same could be said for Hermine. Janet McTeer is equally effective as Plummer. I was also impressed by Eddie Marsan’s portrayal of Heinrich Himmler. He has him down perfectly; creepy, cold and indifferent. It is simply chilling when he sits at the dinner table and tells everyone how he had ordered the death of dozens of children. He tells the story with an empty tone like he is reading a grocery list, totally detached from reality.
The Exception turns out to be a fairly decent thriller with several different stories and all seem to work together, making this film a pleasant surprise. It is not going to make anyone forget some of the other World War 2 films like Saving Private Ryan or love stories with World War 2 in the backdrop like Casablanca. But this is a smaller film that is well acted and ultimately paced well by director David Leveaux. He may take a while to get this film going but I was interested and invested in what I was seeing. Lily James is terrific as the iron willed, Mieke and Jai Courtney is coming along as an actor and his performance strikes the right tone for this film, as well. Who would have thought?
The Exception – ***1/2 out of 5
The Exception – Rated R for violence, graphic nudity, sexual situations and language
The Exception – Run Time is 107 minutes
The Exception is now playing in select cities, On Demand and subscription services. Check your local listings for times, locations, availability and pricing.