Review: NEVER LOOK AWAY Is A Wonderful War Epic

never look away painting
Left to right: Tom Schilling as Kurt Barnert. Photo by Caleb Deschanel, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Never Look Away is a new German film from director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others). The story follows a German artist who escaped from East Germany and lived in West Germany but was tormented by his childhood under the Nazis and the GDR. It was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Cinematography and Best Foreign Language Film.

This film is a modern epic, a type of movie we sadly don’t have the chance to see very often anymore. It is this sprawling tale of war and its effects on the psychology of individuals, and this is extremely captivating. The three hour runtime may discourage some people from seeing the film, but the length was necessary to convey the message of the film.

The first third of the movie is where a majority of the wartime material comes into play. At this point, the film is a war thriller about a family that deals with mental illness. It is interesting to see this perspective on WWII, as the victims of the Holocaust that were targeted for their mental illnesses are often ignored. This is definitely one of the more harrowing war stories to be seen in a while.

never look away kid
Left to right: Cai Cohrs as Young Kurt Barnert. Photo by Caleb Deschanel, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The second act of the movie is slightly weaker than the rest. This part takes the form of a post-war romance. The biggest difference between the romance storyline and the other parts of the film is that this portion is largely rooted in the external conflicts that the characters face rather than the internal ones. The story is still compelling, but it isn’t as thought-provoking or interesting as the first part.

The final third does allow the movie to bounce back. This portion of the film follows the protagonist as an artist and allows insight into the character’s mindset regarding his work and past. However, this portion feels slightly less developed than the others and perhaps even too short. Making the movie any longer could have made it difficult for the film to keep the audience’s attention; however, the movie could have spared to take ten or twenty minutes off of the romance storyline and add it to the artist storyline.

never look away couple
Left to right: Tom Schilling as Kurt Barnert, Paula Beer as Ellie Seeband. Photo by Caleb Deschanel, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

The actors all do a great job in their roles. The biggest standout is Saskia Rosendahl, who plays the protagonist’s aunt in the first act of the movie. She brings a lot of nuance and emotion to the role and is perhaps the most compelling part of the film. Tom Schilling, who plays the adult protagonist, also gives a very strong turn, doing a great job of capturing the essence of being an artist.

In technical terms, the movie is undeniably impressive. The look and feel of the feel do a great job of transporting you back to WWII-era Germany. The cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, although maybe not among the best of the year, is still very strong and beautiful. The score is also wonderful, doing a lot to add to the tone.

Overall, Never Look Away was a very good film. Despite its long runtime and a middle section that doesn’t quite hold up to the rest, it is an entertaining and well-made war epic.

Never Look Away is now playing in select theaters and expands February 22.

By Sean Boelman

Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.

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