Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Directed by: Franklin Schaffner
Written by: Heywood Gould
(based on the novel THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL by Ira Levin)
Starring: Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, James Mason, Jeremy Black, Steve Guttenberg, Uta Hagen & Bruno Ganz
Ira Levin may not be a popular figure to modern audiences, but his novels were huge among moviegoers of the late 60’s and early 70’s. In 1968, ROSEMARY’S BABY shocked the general public and became an essential horror classic. Less than a decade later, the disturbing STEPFORD WIVES birthed controversy and conversation among both sexes. Three years later, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL was released to much success and even garnered a few Academy Award nominations. This film is a product of its time in the best way imaginable. If one were to try to duplicate it in this day and age, they’d cast some young pretty face in the leading role and fill the movie with explosions and unnecessary action sequences. 1978’s BOYS FROM BRAZIL is a dark, restrained, and underrated gem that holds extremely well to this day.
Decades have passed since WWII, but Nazi war criminals are still alive and well. One of these Nazis is Dr. Josef Mengele. This psycho German scientist, hiding out in South America, has set a diabolical scheme into action that has been in the works for over 20 years. This plan includes 94 assassinations of seemingly random people. Aging Nazi hunter, Ezra Lieberman, is alerted about Mengele’s sinister plot by an ill-fated amateur Nazi hunter and quickly gets on the case. The intentions of Josef’s plot are far more complicated than they initially appear to be. Ezra discovers a very real possibility of the Third Reich being reborn if he doesn’t thwart the Nazis in time.
A majority of movies jump out and give you the basic set-up right away. BOYS FROM BRAZIL builds up a mystery with high stakes and then slowly reveals small pieces to a larger puzzle. Specific details of this slow-burn are too far-fetched as it stretches into subtle science-fiction territory. However, BOYS treats every bit of its plot with such seriousness that I couldn’t help but buy into what was being shown to me, as absurd as it is upon reflection. There’s a high level of maturity in the writing and the film is brilliantly restrained, shedding its relatively quiet nature for a couple of exciting sequences that never go too far over-the-top. As intense as the entire film is, as clever as the dialogue can be, it is the fantastic music from Jerry Goldsmith that serves as icing on the cake.
One quality that sticks out in BOYS FROM BRAZIL is that both the hero and the villain are old men caught in an intense game of cat-and-mouse. Their storylines run parallel to each other, with Josef’s plot being slowly executed and Ezra doing everything within his grasp to stop the Nazis, until an intense climax that’s about as unconventional as one can imagine but still wholly satisfying. Laurence Olivier is great as Ezra, using a heavy Jewish accent and adding light comical touches into his conversations. These bits of humor are brief, don’t detract from the real story at hand and offer slight relief to an overall dark movie. Gregory Peck steals every scene he’s in as Josef Mengele. Peck basically seems to be channeling Hitler, but under the name of another real-life monster from WWII.
BOYS FROM BRAZIL is most definitely a product of its time. Those expecting a fast-paced, action-packed thriller are better off looking elsewhere. This macabre mystery ventures into silly territory at times, but the steady-handed execution of the odd material makes it compelling. Peck and Olivier also bring a higher level of class to what could have amounted to a cheap B-flick. BOYS FROM BRAZIL is a one-of-a-kind thriller that stands the test of time, continuing to reward modern viewers with a patience for slow-burn storytelling and a penchant for creative 70’s thrillers!