In Darkness (R) (145 min.) — Oskar Schindler wasn't the only World War II opportunist to see the light and save Jews from capture by Nazis, just the first with a movie based on that conscience shift, and a better one than this. Director Agnieszka Holland's overlong, at times indecipherable movie was nominated for the best foreign language film Academy Award but against A Separation it never had a chance of winning.
The theme of In Darkness is familiar to anyone who saw Schindler's List, but Holland's portrayal is decidedly less compelling than Steven Spielberg's. The unlikely saint in this case is an amoral sewer worker named Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), who discovered Jews hiding beneath the streets of Lvov, Poland.
Rather than turning over the fugitives to Nazi occupiers, Socha profited from them, selling supplies to survive in a murky, septic underworld. Holland spends much of her film exploring these gloomy catacombs, and viewers should hope the projector is fitted with a new lamp, as dimly as the drama plays out in largely natural lighting. Of all the feelings this story could inspire, eyestrain shouldn't be one.
Unlike Spielberg, Holland doesn't canonize the victims, at times making the hidden Jews an unseemly lot, rutting in the shadows like animals in heat and deceiving each other when they should unite. This may be honest — the film is based on Robert Marshall's true-life book — but it undercuts the significance of Socha's risky acts. At times the sewer dwellers don't appear worth saving, except for Socha's profiting. This can't be the filmmaker's intention but it's there.
In Darkness is shown with English subtitles, exclusively at Woodlands Square 20 in Oldsmar. B-
Steve Persall, Times movie critic