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Uprising (April 14/02)

Based on a true story, Uprising follows the attempts of Warsaw Jews in fighting back against the Nazis during the Second World War. And while good portions of it are completely riveting and compelling, a running time of close to three hours proves to be its eventual undoing.

Though the film follows the lives of several characters, Hank Azaria and Leelee Sobieski have the lions share of the screen time. Azaria stars as Mordechai, a rough and tumble denizen of the ghetto that encourages his fellow Jews to fight back (as opposed to being herded around like sheep). Sobieski plays Tosia, a young woman whose non-Semitic appearance makes her an ideal candidate for smuggling out maps and bringing in weapons. A whole host of other folks make up the rest of the neighborhood, including Friends star David Schwimmer as a cautious man who'd rather follow the rules rather than break them. Uprising documents their initial willingness to go along with the Nazi regime, which eventually turns into rebellion as they witness various atrocities committed by Hitler's thugs.

Though it's purportedly based on a true story, some elements seem fictionalized. While there's no doubt that the Nazis were awful people, isn't it at least possible that even a fraction of those fascist soldiers were just following orders? Every Nazi here is portrayed as evil incarnate, with one going so far as to casually murder a Jewish fiddler. The one-sided nature of the film is necessary, I suppose, given the extraordinary amount of people murdered under their regime. Still, the folks that comprise the Warsaw ghetto are awfully decent, free of flaws, which forces us to identify with them not as people but as victims-turned-fighters.

Despite this somewhat unreasonable complaint, Uprising does have some awfully tense and exciting moments. The various sequences detailing the plotting and eventual execution of their plan are extremely effective, as are Tosia's attempts to cross the border. But it just winds up becoming too much of a good thing, as the film drags on until its inevitable conclusion. In all fairness, though, the movie never really becomes tedious until about the last half hour. With the remaining survivors trapped in a sewer, the constricting and claustrophobic atmosphere begins to wear thin.

There's no denying that Uprising is exceedingly well made, however. Co-writer/director Jon Avnet has done a fantastic job of recreating this time period, from the ghetto in which our heroes reside to the massive amount of soldiers and tanks that come crashing through. And the actors are all quite good, with Azaria standing out above the rest. Though he's proven his abilities as a comedic actor (and even dabbled in the dramatic field before, with his Emmy-award winning performance in Tuesdays with Morrie), Uprising proves he's got the versatility to tackle virtually any role. He's charismatic and tough, qualities that such a leader would need to possess.

Uprising, though flawed in a lot of ways, is still worth checking out if only to learn about a true-life inspirational tale.

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© David Nusair