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Uprising

Since the end of World War II the Holocaust has become a great source of drama, resulting in some of the greatest literature and cinema of the 20th century. But, if 1999's Jakob the Liar proved anything, it was that even great tragedy needs a novel angle to be fresh or interesting. Fortunately, Jon Avnet's 2001 television miniseries Uprising covers an historical topic yet to be filmed, and one that is inherently cinematic: the Warsaw resistance, which held off the Nazis longer than the Polish Army. Despite its length, Uprising moves briskly. After Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, the Germans and Poles had settled into a routine, with the Germans bleeding the Poles for their cash and valuables but not yet murdering them wholesale. As some looked for safe passage out of Poland, many — like Jewish Council member Adam Czerniakow (Donald Sutherland) — believed that the Nazis were something to be suffered through. However, others thought that fighting was the only solution, like Mordechai Anielewicz (Hank Azaria) and Yitzhak Zuckerman (David Schwimmer). As the situation worsens and escape routes vanish, Mordechai rounds up those who might help, using women (including Leelei Sobeski and Radha Mitchell) to infiltrate the gentile side of the city and gather supplies and information. But in 1943, as the mass exodus of Warsaw Jews into concentration camps began, Mordechai and his team strike back in force, and hold off the German army via a guerrilla revolt. The Nazis send Major-General Jurgen Stroop (Jon Voight) to deal with resistance, but his attacks prove ineffective against the rag-tag fighters. Shot in a hand-held documentary style, Avnet's Uprising shows the two sides of wartime thinking clearly and concisely through Czerniakow and Mordechai. In the beginning both men act out of what they see as "Jewish honor," but by 1943 the situation has changed so radically that even Czerniakow knows he was wrong, and — as Mordechai says once the fighting begins — his people can control only how they die: with or without honor. In the leading role, Hank Azaria doesn't exactly command the small screen, but his mastery of accents (as shown with his multiple turns on The Simpsons) comes in handy, keeping his character believable, while David Schwimmer is surprisingly inoffensive in a rare non-comedic role. Other name actors, like Voight and Helen Hunt-clone Sobeski, make for good color without drawing too much attention to themselves. That no one actor comes off as more important is also useful in telling a story about people working together, and such keeps the film from telegraphing who will survive. A fascinating bit of history, Uprising is one of the best made-for-television movies in recent memory, in a genre that's become a dying art. Warner Brother's two-disc DVD set presents the film in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with audio in Dolby Digital 5.1. On the first disc are two commentaries, one by director Avnet, the other by Azaria, Schwimmer, Voight, and (recorded separately) Sobeski, with the actor's track a little more playful, but it's obvious that the director and actors did their homework. On the second disc is a 20-minute documentary on the making of the film and a 30-minute documentary on the actual revolt (which features interviews with the cast and director of Uprising), alongside the promo trailer. Dual-DVD digipak with paperboard slipcase.
—DSH



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