Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 3/22/00
Jakob the Liar
1999 (2000) - Columbia
review by Brad Pilcher of
The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
120 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced,
full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case
packaging, commentary with director Peter Kassovitz, isolated music
score, "making of" featurette, production notes, talent
files, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters),
languages: English (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned
"I believe we're
the chosen people, but I wish the Almighty had chosen somebody else."
The Holocaust has been a subject that several films have tackled in
the 90s. From Spielbergs Schindler's
List to Life is Beautiful
by the Italian genius Roberto Benigni, filmmakers have been
attempting to make some sort of sense out of the darkest period of
the Twentieth century. Now Robin Williams gets in on the act with
the more recent Jakob the Liar.
Aside from being a box-office bomb, the movie is also the weakest
of the Holocaust films made in recent years. Where Spielberg's
efforts were successful in capturing and evoking the epic drama of
the Shoah (Hebrew for Holocaust), Jakob
the Liar can't figure out if it's a comedy or a drama,
never quite reaching success as a dramedy. Where Benigni was able to
show a humor that conquered the torment of the Nazi's, Williams
falls flat with his characters, often more like cardboard cutouts
than anything. Granted, some of the scenes definitely evoked a smile
or a pang in the heart, but ultimately the film fails.
Williams plays Jacob Heym, a Jewish former cafe owner in a Polish
Ghetto. He is eventually joined by Hannah Taylor-Gordon as the young
Lina, an escapee from a train on its way to the concentration camps.
Armin Mueller-Stahl, notable from The
Thirteenth Floor delivers perhaps the best performance of
the film as the noble doctor Kirschbaum.
The plot line is rather simple. In order to stop a friend from
getting himself killed, Jakob makes up a story that he heard on a
fictional radio. When the news spreads, Jakob is forced to continue
his radio bulletins in order to keep the hope of his Jewish
neighbors alive. The Nazis, of course, learn of the radio's
existence and begin a search to find the operator of the mythical
Where the film falls down is in the approach. The film is certainly
a drama. Williams has proven his ability to emote dramatically and
he makes a valiant attempt here. The problem is that the film also
wants to be a comedy along the lines of Life
is Beautiful at some points. The Nazi persecutors are
depicted as bumbling fools, plagued by incompetence and the
inability to control their Jewish victims. This depiction ends up
detracting from the story, robbing the climax of its emotional
impact. An overly sappy script doesn't help.
On the technical side, the disc is fine. The anamorphic transfer is
good, with hardly any problems. There is some grain visible here and
there, but this may be purposeful, as it would certainly fit with
the theme. The audio is also good, although don't expect any tank
battles or heavy audio highlights. But the sound is encompassing and
rich. The surround sound is poorly used, however, not really lending
itself to directional effects. Given the source, that's a minor
The extras represent a good attempt, but don't quite execute. The
director's commentary, for example, is both dull and uninsightful.
There are huge (and I mean huge) chunks of space when he says
nothing. You still hear the film, but a commentary should say more.
The featurette is a promo piece entirely, but is still a nice
addition. The isolated score is also available (and is good), but
doesn't fully make-up for the commentary. The lack of a theatrical
trailer is all the more puzzling.
In the end, the film is weak but still good. It doesn't compare to
the original 1975 German film (upon which it was based), or any of
the aforementioned Holocaust films, but it has its humor and its
heart. It just doesn't come up with a full house. The disc is good,
but nothing to write home about either. Columbia TriStar slipped up
here with a solid host of extras on paper. But once you start
playing the disc, you find them to be OK at best. If you like Robin
Williams, you'll probably want to pick it up.