Jakob the Liar (1999) starring Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Bob Balaban, Hannah Taylor Gordon directed by Peter Kassovitz Movie Review

Jakob the Liar (1999)   3/53/53/53/53/5

Robin Williams in Jakob the Liar (1999)

Jakob's Hope

In late 1944 Polish shopkeeper Jakob (Robin Williams) finds himself in the offices of the Gestapo when a guard sends him there for being out in the Ghetto beyond curfew. It is there that Jakob hears on the radio that the Russians are advancing and then after leaving he comes across Lina (Hannah Taylor Gordon) a young Jewish girl who has arrived in the Ghetto having escaped from a train taking her and her mother to an Extermination Camp. Reluctantly Jakob takes her in fearing what will happen to him if the Germans discover her. When the next day he tells his friend about what he heard on the radio it soon spreads and they think he has a secret radio. On seeing how his news gives those who hear it hope he starts making up positive news from his "secret radio" despite knowing that having a radio is forbidden. When the Germans learn of this "secret radio" they start looking for it giving Jakob a tough decision as he knows he will surely be killed if he admits but then others may die if he doesn't.

I have watched a few holocaust movies and not many of them have featured humour as there is an obvious reason why, the holocaust is not a laughing matter. So "Jakob the Liar" is in some ways quite a brave movie because it is most certainly a holocaust movie with comedy and whilst it needs some of the humour there are times when the humour crosses over the line and is not so much inappropriate but a little out of place. It makes "Jakob the Liar" a movie which you know has a good heart but at times makes you feel wrong for watching.

Robin Williams and Hannah Taylor Gordon in Jakob the Liar (1999)

That good heart is actually what saves "Jakob the Liar" because what we see is how Jakob having seen how the news of the Russians advancing lifts flagging spirits decides to spread more positive rumours to lift spirits further and give people hope. Of course we see the consequences of this from all of sudden Jakob becoming very popular within the community whilst trying to hide an escaped girl to the decision he faces when the rumours of his radio reach the Gestapo. It is naturally humorous because of the way the rumours spread and the nervousness of Jakob is put into over drive when everyone thinks he has a radio. But again the humorous side of this occasionally feels too much and robbing the story of its realism and depth.

Now "Jakob the Liar" is one of Robin Williams excursions into drama, but as you can appreciate drama which calls on his comic talents at the same time. The thing is that I think Robin Williams is well cast but the overall tone of the movie, the comedic music and other quirky characters makes his performance feel too funny at times. It is the same throughout as Bob Balaban, Liev Schreiber and Alan Arkin all end up with characters which at times are a little too amusing for the movie.

What this all boils down to is that "Jakob the Liar" is an entertaining movie and has an interesting theme which focuses on hope. But the comedy of it from characters to the soundtrack often feels too much for a movie which is about the holocaust.