Film: The Boys from Brazil

Based on a novel by Ira Levin, The Boys from Brazil (1978) manages to be both campy and deadly serious, and while it doesn’t entirely hold up, it remains an engaging mystery watch. Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) is an elderly, Vienna-based Nazi hunter devoted to running down fugitive war criminals. When freelance photographer Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) contacts him after recording a meeting of exiled Nazi leaders in Paraguay, Lieberman is dismissive of the amateur’s investigative work—until Kohler turns up dead. Lieberman springs into action turn learn that Nazi mad scientist Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) has launched a massive assassination campaign against seemingly random targets all over the world. Initially, Lieberman can discern no rhyme or reason to the murderous operation, but as the picture comes into focus, the chilling truth of Mengele’s plan to launch a Fourth Reich is revealed.

The premise of The Boys from Brazil is outlandish, the kind of far-fetched villain plot Mission: Impossible might have churned out in its weaker moments. But once you accept its inherent unlikeliness, there’s an enticing aura of intrigue to its slow-build unfolding, with chilling themes still worth taking seriously. Both Olivier and Peck verge on the cartoonish, but they serve the plot well enough, as does the gritty international photography and the earnest script. When all is said and done, it’s difficult to tell whether the film works because of its elements or in spite of them; mileage will vary, depending on your predisposition for cinema in this vein. For me, it wasn’t entirely convincing or successful, but still moderately diverting.

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