tek's rating: ½

Swing Kids (PG-13)
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Caution: potential spoilers.

This came out in 1993, but I didn't see it until 2013. I suppose it's something I always vaguely wanted to get around to sooner or later, and I'm glad I finally did. Um... it looks like it wasn't reviewed that well by most critics, which I don't really understand. Personally I thought it was pretty damn good. Good drama, good acting, good music, an interesting and important historical perspective... I didn't see anything not to like about it.

It's set in Hamburg, Germany, in 1939. The main characters are these three friends named Peter Müller (Robert Sean Leonard), Thomas Berger (Christian Bale), and Arvid (I don't think his last name was given, but he was often called by the nickname "Herr Hitman"). I'm not sure how old any of them were meant to be, probably late teens, though they looked more like early 20s. Anyway, it's not important. Also I should say they had at least one other friend who hung out with them sometimes, but no one important enough for me to learn their names, or anything. (The internet mentions someone named Otto.) Anyway, they were all into American swing music, and other foreign cultural stuff that the Nazis were banning. They went to clubs together, places full of other young people who were swing dancing, and those were definitely some fun scenes to watch. Oh, and Arvid played guitar, but he couldn't dance because he had a bad limp. Many kids their age were becoming HJs; that is, being recruited into the Hitlerjugend (or Hitler Youth, as we'd say). But fans of swing music and dancing, aka "swing kids," such as Peter, Thomas, and Arvid, avoided this fate, as they hated the Nazis.

However, one day Peter and Thomas stole a radio, and Peter got caught. He could have been sent to a work camp, but he was protected by a member of the Gestapo named Herr Knopp (played by an uncredited Kenneth Branagh), who was becoming close to Peter's mother (Barbara Hershey). In spite of being released, Peter had no choice but to become an HJ, and Thomas joined up, so he wouldn't have to go through it alone. The only other HJ of any importance to the plot is a guy named Emil (Noah Wyle), a former swing kid who they hoped had merely been forced to join, since they believed no one who liked swing could ever really become a Nazi. But apparently they were wrong. Anyway, Peter and Thomas swore they'd remain swing kids, and just play along with the HJ to avoid trouble. Though Arvid was quite upset about the whole situation. And throughout the film, his relationship with Thomas goes from bad to worse. Of course, the instructors at the HJ school do all they can to indoctrinate the students to love the Fatherland and the Nazi party, and hate Jews and pretty much anyone else who wasn't "one of us." Peter eventually becomes confused about what to believe, and part of that has to do with the fact that, six years earlier, his father had been imprisoned for four months, and soon after that had died. Or been killed. Because he opposed the Nazi party. But ultimately, Thomas is the one who is swayed by the Nazi propaganda.

There are other things I should mention, and other characters. Peter had a little brother named Willi. And Peter worked for a bookseller, and his job led him to meet a woman named Frau Linge, whose late husband had once been a student of Peter's father. And there was a girl named Evey, who became friendly with Peter, though it's not clear to me if they ever exactly started dating. (Other aspects of Peter's life eventually made dating perhaps a bit... problematic.) Anyway... I don't feel like I've said enough about the movie, but I also don't want to give away any more of the plot. It may not be the most profound movie ever made about the horrible situations either during or leading up to World War II, but I think it did a good job of showing the plight of ordinary German citizens at the time, who had to live in fear of their own government. (Sadly, the same can be said of the citizens of any number of other countries in any number of eras.) And yet, it's nice to know that some people refused to give in to that fear, refused to abandon their ideals.

So I guess all that's left to say is... swing heil!

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