The Boys From Brazil involves a secret plot by escaped Nazi war criminals now living in Brazil. The man coordinating the plot is the infamous Dr. Joseph Mengele (Peck). As the film opens, Mengele’s scheme is uncovered by a young Nazi hunter (Guttenberg). He learns that Mengele and his team are planning to kill 94 men in several different European and North American countries. The reason for this is not clear. Guttenberg calls the famed Erza Lieberman (Olivier) to get his help. Lieberman has become discredited and cynical and refuses to help, however. Then Guttenberg is killed by Mengele.
We, of course, know that these boys are clones. What’s more, we know they are clones made from Adolph Hitler’s DNA. And the reason the 94 men have similar profiles and are being killed is that Mengele hopes to recreate Hitler by re-creating him genetically and then making each boy go through a similar childhood to the one Hitler had. He believes this will lead to a reincarnation of Hitler.
Why This Was A Turdburger
On paper, this film has amazing potential. Seriously, it offers Nazis, a sinister global plot, and tons of potential action. And best of all, the casting was top notch! Is Mengele’s plan a little weak? Sure, but in a well-done film you won’t have time to think about it until well after you’ve left the theater. So what went wrong? The failure of this film is a classic example of what happens when a writer/director thinks the set up is so strong that it sells itself. In fact, that idea permeates this film time and again leaving unsatisfied potential everywhere. Consider this...
The idea of a group of Nazi war criminals hatching a global plot that will ultimately lead to the rebirth of a new Nazi German under a cloned Adolph Hitler is a strong idea... at least on the surface. There are some definite problems with this. For one thing, Hitler took advantage of unique circumstances. So you can make all the clones you want, but unless you find another Germany in the Great Depression, they won’t be able to do anything. Further, history tells us that Hitler made as many ruinous mistakes as he made brilliant decisions. And by the end of the war, he had become such a drug-addicted mental case that he was ordering around phantom armies, shooting loyal subordinates, and abandoning hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fruitless deaths. Why recreate him? Recreate Stalin if anyone.
Anyways, that issue aside, the real problem is that once we know the scheme, there’s no sense of urgency to it. The film never once convinces us that the societies where these Hitler²s live are looking for a Hitler, nor does it suggest that the Nazis have political connections that would let them place these Hitler²s into power. So at best, this film tells the story of a plot that could one day evolve into a genuine scheme for power. That’s weak. Nor does the director substitute action to generate tension. There are a couple murders, but they are quite dull. There are no chases, no lucky escapes, and no fights. In each case, we’re supposed to be shocked by the fact of the murder rather than how it gets carried out. And that’s just the beginning.
In fact, throughout this film, both the Mengele character and the Lieberman character underwhelm. Lieberman is meant to come across as noble, tenacious and resolute. But Olivier seems to think that his being a Jew who spends his life hunting Nazis is enough to give the character life, so he just stumbles around meekly as the plot magically plays out for him. Mengele, on the other hand, is a Nazi who did cruel experiments on death camp victims. Just like Olivier, Peck thinks this is enough to make the character. So he swaggers around and barks orders and he shoots people casually, but that’s about all he gives you to feel his evil. There’s never anything to let you into this guy’s mind or to explain his actions. In fact, neither actor does anything to give you any more insight into the character than you would get from knowing their background. It’s like being given a sports car and then letting it sit in the driveway.
This problem repeats itself throughout. At every turn, the film relies on the setup itself to hold the audience’s interest and it does nothing to develop interest independently. Even the presence of the Nazis is done lazily. You see one brief moment where you have some people in Nazi uniforms at a ball, but there’s no sense that these people truly have an ideology, a goal, or an organization that is capable of doing anything more than holding a ball in Brazil.
The end result of this is a film filled with potential which never once lives up to that potential. And that makes the film boring. This film failed scene by scene.