Like a WWII version of Super 8, Martin Koolhoven's Winter in Wartime begins with a spectacularly explosive vehicle crash (this time a plane rather than a train), which leads to a cusp-of-adulthood teen harboring a secret from terrifying authority figures as he grows up the hard way. Koolhoven's commercial instincts don't artistically serve his source material—the celebrated 1972 Dutch novel of the same name by Jan Terlouw—but those Spielbergian touches are probably why the picture won a stateside release, if three years after the fact.
It's 1945 in Nazi-occupied Holland, the last winter of the war. Thirteen-year old Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) quietly idolizes the Resistance and his connected Uncle Ben (Yorick van Wageningen) while regarding his own favorable situation—as son of the mayor (Raymond Thiry)—with some degree of shame. Despite familial warnings to have nothing to do with the war, Michiel becomes embroiled in intrigue when a friend leaves him the responsibility of looking out for downed British paratrooper Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower of Sweeney Todd). Jack now resides in an underground lair in the woods, where Michiel begins to make regular visits to pass along intelligence and food. It's quickly apparent that Michiel is in over his head, and what results is a heady brew of triumphs and tragic consequences. The boy, natch, becomes a man.
Koolhoven's direction—bathed in blue, post-production filtering—shows a slick confidence, a tradeoff for an authentic feel. Lakemeier proves solid in the crucial central role, which asks him to do more with expressiveness than with dialogue, and one of the film's strengths is its insistence on telling the story from Michiel's limited, naive perspective. Unfortunately, Koolhoven seems to have invested more creative energy in the action sequences (primarily Nazi motorcycles giving chase) than in crafting dramatic scenes with just the touch to be touching. Pino Donaggio's misbegotten, overblown score emblematizes Koolhoven's hamfisted approach. The setup-punchline approach here is comically clichéd: a family laughing and happy together signals something awful is seconds away from disrupting their happiness; father and son share a bonding moment over the son's first shave; in the very next scene, their relationship tragically, irrevocably changes. Winter in Wartime is a good enough mainstream drama, but one can't help but feel it's a missed opportunity to give Terlouw a more textured treatment.
Sony sends home Winter in Wartime in a Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack with typically great A/V credentials. The picture quality is perfection, with pure, deep color and black level; crisp contrast, detail and texture; and an all-around tight, clean image. Though the film is mostly made of quiet dialogue, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix here is proficient in every respect (including crystal-clear dialogue and full-bodied music), and it passes the test of the big action scenes with flying colors of potency and detail.
The Dutch doc "The Making of Winter in Wartime" (24:24, SD) touches on the source novel, the film's themes, and production, with set footage, clips, and perspectives offered by director Martin Koolhoven and actors Martijn Lakemeier, Yorick van Wageningen, Jamie Campbell Bower, Melody Klaver, et al.
We also get the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:06, HD), BD-Live access and the aforementioned DVD Copy.
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