This WWII thriller plays it too easy.
Last week, I’ve praised the espionage thriller “The Courier,” which stared Benedict Cumberbatch as an English businessman hired to spy against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. That movie was played with style and commitment, and it had something for history and movie buffs to look forward to until the next big movie comes out.
Now, we have “Six Minutes to Midnight,” which takes places 17 days before World War II begins, but is not a history movie. It’s written by its leading actor Eddie Izzard, who does a good job at playing a British Intelligence agent going undercover as an English teacher at an Angelo-German finishing school for girls-some of whom are daughters of the Nazi High Command. It starts off interesting on that notion, but then it becomes your run-of-the-mill international thriller, where the hero is wrongfully accused of murder and has to track down the bad guys.
The agent’s name is Thomas Miller, and he’s able to persuade the headmistress (Judi Dench) that he can teach a class of German girls, since he takes after his father’s language. And by the way, if they tease him in the language, he’ll know what they’re saying. The one student the movie cares about is Gretal (Tijan Marei), who is often teased by the other girls, but could care less. She has a single special scene with Miller and later one of the bad guys.
Speaking of which.
The bad guys in the movie are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They consist of the teacher Ilse Keller (Carla Juri from “Blade Runner 2049”) and the government agent Captain Drey (James D’Arcy), both of whom are involved with a plot to send the Nazi girls back to Germany. So, the Keller murders Miller’s handler (David Schofield), and forces him to go on the run from the police. But then, he gets caught and placed in the prescience of Drey. That’s when he has to be the short Liam Neeson hero.
I was mostly impressed by how Izzard is able to write and portray a lead character who is able to rise to occasion, especially when dodging and pursuing his enemies, and he’s the main attraction of this movie. And while D’Arcy’s character is somewhat flat, the supporting work from Juri, Marei, Dench, and Jim Broadbent as a helpful bus driver are also well-acted.
But “Six Minutes to Midnight” could have been more risky and more versatile. Instead, it has to take the easy way out, and runs for 90 minutes. I wanted the movie to have more depth to the characters, and I was expecting it to keep you at the edge of your seat. Matter of fact, it wants to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller with its pursuits, chases, traitors, and guns. It does entertain you on that notion, but somehow, it all seems too obvious and fast. It basically jumps to conclusions.
It does have its moments like when the undercover agent and the girls find the corpse of their former teacher on the beach, and when the agent must dodge the police on the beach by taking a band player’s uniform. And I still admire how he warns the girls not to say anything bad or degrading about him in German. But overall, it’s a missed opportunity.
In Select Theaters and On Demand This Friday