Invincible tells the true story of two very different reactions to the rise of Nazism in late ‘30’s Berlin. One is a sleazy, worldly, brilliant con man who has tricked his way across Europe hiding from the Nazis in plain sight, often holding their hands while faking his way through a ‘divination.’ The other is that of a good hearted, simple-minded blacksmith who had never left his small Polish town until being led to Berlin to perform as a strongman. The first hides his Judaism and is in a constant game of cat and mouse, played wonderfully by Tim Roth at peak form. The latter hates hiding and cannot help but shout his Judaism from the rooftops. The movie allows the viewer to see how the two approaches to life pan out for our protagonists.
This movie does many things very well. Tim Roth’s performance is the best of his career and one of the best you’re likely to ever see. The imagery and symbolism is spot on. The production design is robust to the last detail. I would argue there was only one bad choice Herzog made in the entire film. Problem is, it’s a big one. You see, Herzog decided to use non-actors to portray roles that mirror what they do in real life. The pianist is played by a pianist, the weightlifter is played by a weightlifter, and so on. In fact, other than two or three actors, all of the roles are played by people who are in actuality they type of person they play on screen.
This has been done many times in the past and was done very well and often by one of my all-time favorite directors, Robert Bresson. The problem is, this method is great for action (the piano playing is very natural, the Hebrew teaching very natural, etc) but terrible for dialogue. People, like Bresson, who do it well, don’t do allow the actors to do much speaking. Invincible, unfortunately, is dialogue heavy. It’s very much a low action, dialogue focused movie, which means terrible acting abounds. When the performers are not doing what they do, they are truly dreadful actors. But, hey, this was Herzog’s first non-documentary feature in 18 years and like I said, it was only one poor decision, although a broad sweeping, overarching one. But it won’t matter too much, as all the other elements and Roth’s performance are more than enough to make this a very interesting, engrossing picture.