Join or Sign In

Sign in to customize your TV listings

Continue with Facebook Continue with email

By joining TV Guide, you agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge the data practices in our Privacy Policy.

Jakob the Liar Reviews

It begins with a stale Hitler joke and ends with a miraculous quick-save that demonstrates just how poorly the Holocaust is served by the life-affirming requirements of Hollywood features. But along the way, there are flashes of hope that this awkward remake of the 1974 German film JAKOB, DER LUGNER, might not become the feel-good movie about the Final Solution it ultimately is. Once a happy latke vendor, Jakob Heym (Robin Williams) has, during the bitter Polish winter of 1944, precious little to be happy about. His wife has been murdered by the Nazis and his neighborhood turned into a ghetto, a prison where Jakob and other Jews are forced to work before their inevitable deportation to concentration camps. One night Jakob is caught wandering the streets near curfew, and while waiting in the Nazi commandant's office hears a radio report detailing a nearby German encounter with Russian troops. Jakob uses the information to dissuade Mischa (Liev Schrieber), a young boxer, from attempting a dangerous escape. By the next morning the entire ghetto assumes Jakob has a radio, an offense punishable by death. But having seen how the tiniest glimmer of hope lifts his suicidal comrades' spirits, Jakob begins fabricating optimistic, often outlandish news reports, gravely endangering himself in the process. Despite the borscht-belt affect, Williams is fine (saddened, dewy-eyed sentimentality has become his stock-in-trade). The rest of cast, including Armin Mueller-Stahl and Alan Arkin, is better still. The attempts at black humor are of the "Oy, those verstankerne Germans!" variety, but Elemer Ragalyi's ice-blue photography and Luciana Arrighi's vivid production design evoke a haunted, dying world. Certain details — corpses hung from the neck in the town square, the total absence of children from the near-empty ghetto — linger in the memory, belying the film's fatuous optimism.