Not RatedYou can watch the trailer here
I found this movie while randomly searching through the foreign film section of NetFlix's Instant Watch films. I'm definitely glad I took a chance on it.
John Rabe (pronounced rah-buh), which was directed by Florian Gallenberger, tells the true story of a German businessman running a Siemens factory in Nanking, China in the late 1930s before the start of the second World War. When the Japanese start to bomb Nanking, Rabe (Ulrich Tukur) decides to aid the Chinese workers in his factory, many of whom he had known for the majority of his twenty-seven years in China. After the initial attacks, Rabe and his wife Dora (Dagmar Manzel) attempt to flee to safety, but John stays behind only to see his wife's boat attacked and destroyed before his very eyes. He falls into a state of depression but maintains his resolve to help the Chinese by creating a "safety zone" within the city that they hope the Japanese will acknowledge. With the help of a college teacher (Anne Consigny), a doctor (Steve Buscemi) and a young German idealist (Daniel Brühl), John Rabe does everything in his power to help the Chinese people while keeping the Japanese forces at as great of a distance as possible.
To start, I'd like to say that John Rabe is as much a foreign film as 2001's No Man's Land - yes, there are scenes in languages other than English, but there's also plenty of screen-time with characters speaking only English. If I had to break it down, I'd say that this film is about forty percent German, thirty-five percent English, twenty percent Japanese and five percent Chinese. We get the whole package when it comes to the languages, so I guess it's fair to call this a "foreign language" film. However, there's no mistaking that this was a German-made and produced feature, so that can't be taken away from it.
That being said, the screenplay is actually pretty good. Despite the constant change in language, I never felt lost with the story or the dialogue. I think that the story was conveyed as best as it possibly could have been, although there were a few scenes that probably didn't need to be left off the cutting room floor. I think that the writers did a decent job giving us some very emotional scenes that expressed the gravity of the viciousness of the situation in Nanking, so that's also a plus. I don't really have any qualms about the screenplay - it's just solid if not fantastic.
The acting is also very good all-around. Tukur is splendid as our lead, a historical figure I had never heard of before seeing this movie (which may be a bit of a shame considering all he did). He conveys his emotions in a very quiet manner, and I think that made his character all the more likable. Tukur made me want to root for Rabe to succeed in his endeavor. Brühl is also very good in his supporting role, and if you recognize him, there's a good reason - he played Pvt. Fredrick Zoller in 2009's Inglourious Basterds. Even Buscemi gives a great performance in a completely surprise role (yes, I was utterly speechless when he showed up on the screen; apparently I need to do a little more research before I watch these movies...).
Overall, it's definitely a film worth watching, especially if you're a history buff or are interested in wartime films. It's an interesting story that made me think about Schindler's List quite a bit, but it's nowhere as good as that masterpiece. Still, John Rabe should be seen if only to advance a little bit of historical knowledge in somewhat entertaining fashion.
Movie Review Summary:
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Addition to Awards
2010: 1 nomination