AMERICAN TRAITOR: THE TRIAL OF AXIS SALLY -- A Serviceable WWII Drama with a Standout Performance from Al Pacino
Review by Dan Skip Allen
There are a lot of stories surrounding WWII that people don't know about until they get made into movies. The story of Mildred Gillars, also known as Axis Sally, is one of those. It is an interesting story but whether or not it deserved a movie is questionable, especially with the way it was filmed by the filmmakers.
Meadow Williams plays Axis Sally/Mildred Gillars, a Broadway singer who is approached to be the voice of the Axis soldiers in WWII. At the end of the war, she gets arrested by American soldiers and brought to the United States to stand trial for war crimes against the USA. An older experienced lawyer, James Laughlin (Al Pacino), decided to defend her because no one else will. He struggles to find an angle to come from where he can get the jury to have sympathy for her.
Trying to defend war criminals isn't easy even for an experienced lawyer such as Pacino's character. He enlists the help of a new young upstart lawyer, Billy Owen, played by Swen Temmel. He brings new ideas to the defense even though Pacino's character balks at them sometimes. The propaganda Axis Sally spews is pretty outrageous. She is hated and liked by American soldiers at the same time. What would you say though if Joseph Gobbels was watching you at all times and threatening your life? That's the main question of the trial.
This cast was surprisingly very good from Mitch Pileggi as the lawyer for the people or Geller's husband Carsten Norgaard. Also a couple of newcomers Lala Kent and Jasper Polish as members of each legal team. Also, Sewell Whitney as the judge was very good as well. This cast was surprisingly very good for such a film as this. Everybody served their roles perfectly in the film.
The filmmaking style of this film left something to be desired. Filmed in Puerto Rico, this was a stand-in for Washington D.C. in the 1940s. The color palette of the film seemed a little bit off to me. It didn't have the best cinematography either. The brightness of some scenes threw off the feel of the film. Instead of using lights, they used natural lighting and it didn't work. The scenes on the radio station were black and white but that didn't seem to look good either. This film just didn't have a good look all the way around.
The story by Vance Owen and others based on his book was pretty good. Using the star power of Pacino as the defense lawyer was a great idea. He brings all his gravitas to the role which makes it stand out. He has his moments to shine but gives space for the others to do their thing as well. Thomas Kretschmann as Goebbels was pretty sinister in that role. I think anybody would be afraid of him. The plot had some twists and turns in it as well. That was good to not make it a straightforward story of this woman's trial.
American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally was an enjoyable film for the most part. The plot and story were serviceable as well as the cast. Obviously, Al Pacino was the standout in this film. Otherwise, this film probably would have gone unnoticed by most people. The look of the film was the real problem. Whether in color or black and white, the aesthetic was wrong.
American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally hits theaters and VOD on May 28.