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'In Darkness' review: Another hidden Holocaust story, devastating you into the light

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

February 16, 2012

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***1/2 (out of four)

Eventually, the 145-minute runtime of “In Darkness” starts to feel long. Then you remember that you’re watching a story about Jews forced to spend 14 months hiding in a sewer to avoid being killed by the Nazis during WWII, and you realize you can last another 30 minutes in the theater.

Troubling and powerful, the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee is based on the true story of Polish sewer worker Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), who initially helps people he calls “vermin” because they’re paying him but grows conflicted about where his sympathies lie. He’s not the only one who sees Jews as a financial opportunity; Socha’s old Ukrainian friend from prison (Michal Zurawski), who’s now a Nazi commander, constantly nudges Socha to keep his eye out for anyone who can be turned in for a reward.

I must note that “In Darkness” features more sexuality than I can recall seeing in a movie about the Holocaust. Perhaps writer David F. Shamoon and director Agnieszka Holland, working from Robert Marshall’s book “In the Sewers of Lvov,” aim to depict the desperation and desire to maintain humanity in an inhumane situation. But a late-movie sex scene in trickling water that serves as a shower tips the movie’s heat from “appropriately shocking” to “a little much.”

Not every character receives ample depth, but “In Darkness” horrifies honestly, whether a Nazi pulls off part of a Jew’s beard or a man nearly dies because he does not have a cap. What saves him? He looks healthy, so the man next to him is shot, leaving a cap now in need of a head.

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mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais