Jakob the Liar Review

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A Jewish baker (Williams) fakes radio broadcasts to provide hope for a Polish ghetto during the Nazi's occupation.


There was once a time when a comedy about the holocaust would have been considered an audaciously brave and/or audaciously stupid move. Unfortunately for Jakob The Liar, the conclusion of that particular period in cinema history occurred a year earlier, with the release of Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful.

As a result, what would otherwise have been, if nothing else, at least controversial, simply comes across as a vehicle for Robin Williams at his most unpleasantly sentimental. The artist formerly known as Mork plays the economically truthful Jakob, a mild-mannered Jewish baker-cum-boxing manager who we discover failing to make ends meet in a Polish ghetto towards the end of World War II. After accidentally learning that Germany is losing the battle for the Eastern front, Williams spreads the good news - and before you can say, "Goooooooooood morning, Warsaw!" the entire community is under the misapprehension that he has somehow saved a radio from Nazi confiscation.

Which presents something of a dilemma for our supposedly unheroic hero. Should he tell the truth and destroy his increasingly suicidal friends last hopes? Or should he risk execution by pretending that he does have a radio, enabling him to do a lot of funny voices behind a screen for the entertainment of the cute little concentration camp-escaping munchkin that he stumbled across way back in Act One? Anyone who bets on the first option has clearly never seen a Robin Williams movie - although they would certainly be well advised not to make this their first. Since it was based on a book by camp survivor Jurek Becker - Jacob Le Menteur - no one could argue that director Kassovitz's intentions are less than noble. But as entertainment, the end product is as turgid a film about mass genocide as we are ever likely to see.

While the support from fellow players Arkin, Schreiber and Siemaszko, as Williams' fellow persecutees, is competent enough, the entire enterprise has been smothered with such a sickly layer of glutinous Hollywood sentimentality - replete with a predictably semi-happy ending - that diabetics should probably consult their doctor before even seeing the trailer.