Triumph of the Spirit
Time Out saysThere's no doubting the sense of commitment which touches every aspect of this grimly detailed Holocaust drama. But the impulse to provide an authentic reconstruction of conditions in Auschwitz finds distractions (most glaringly from an intrusive score and Young's gimmicky direction) which swamp the stark brutalities. The plot is based on the real-life experience of Greek boxer Salamo Arouch (Dafoe), who survived the camp only after fighting endless bouts for the entertainment of his captors. The defeated, too weak to work, were sent to their deaths, while Arouch was awarded extra rations which he divided among his family. Arouch's fiancée and her sister are similarly incarcarcated, and a sub-plot traces the back-breaking labour and physical indignities they suffer. Dafoe gives a charged, compelling performance, while Olmos provides convincingly understated support; but the attempt to convey the terrible magnitude of the atrocities has overwhelmed the film-makers and left them resorting to over-familiar tactics.