Picks and Pans Review: Varian's War
Varian Fry was not famous when he died in 1967, but he was a man eminently worth learning about. Described by Showtime as "the American Schindler," Fry is credited with rescuing some 2,000 people from Nazi-occupied France—among them artist Marc Chagall and political philosopher Hannah Arendt.
Unfortunately this drama brings Fry's story to our attention without bringing it fully to life. The talented William Hurt gives a mannered performance in the lead role—cocking his head, leaning on his walking stick, taking off his glasses, putting them back on. The gestures work when Fry is consciously presenting the deceptive image of a dandy out of his depth, but we hardly ever see past them into the character's mind and heart. Fry's able aide, a composite figure played by Julia Ormond, has two salient features: sexual candor ("I collect special men") and a persistent cough ("Probably TB, and it's probably going to kill me"). Neither is particularly convincing.
Viewers are meant to appreciate the climax—an uphill hike to the Spanish border by winded artists and intellectuals—as the moral equivalent of The Great Escape. Mentally I did, but not emotionally.
Bottom Line: Historical disappointment