Although little known today beyond his native Scandinavia, Torgny Segerstedt became one of the strongest voices of resistance against the Nazis prior to and throughout World War II. Jan Troell’s new film The Last Sentence, opening today at Laemmle’s Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles and Lincoln Plaza in New York, will hopefully inspire a 21st century appreciation of the man.
The movie opens with a quote intended to serve as a warning to viewers: “No human being can withstand close scrutiny.” Despite being Segerstedt’s fellow countryman, Troell does not shy from depicting his main subject warts and all. Segerstedt began his professional life as a controversial but popular theologian and professor of comparative religion. He would later claim to some that he lost his faith and, in 1917, became editor in chief of Sweden’s leading liberal newspaper, Handelstidningen. It was in this journalistic capacity in 1933 that he began denouncing the Nazi party and their concept of National Socialism. Segerstedt’s infamous claim in print that “Herr Hitler is a loudmouth and an insult” drew the wrath of Hitler’s chief Reich minister, Hermann Goering. It marked the start of a 12-year war of words between Segerstedt and the Nazis, although it at times entailed the threat of physical peril to the editor. He also accurately predicted that the Nazis’ rise in Europe would lead to a new world war.
Segerstedt’s stands on behalf of the Jews, freedom of the press, human liberty and conscientious objection are admirable. The film also depicts Segerstedt’s well-attested to love of dogs and animals. However, Troell also shines a light on darker aspects of the man’s life, chiefly his decades-long adulterous relationship with his wife’s sister, Maja, who also happened to own the newspaper and was herself married to its publisher. “He has a moral view of immorality,” the long-suffering Mrs. Segerstedt confides to a friend. The result is an unusually balanced, seemingly unbiased biopic by the writer-director of such international hits as The Emigrants (1971), Flight of the Eagle (1982) and Everlasting Moments (2008). Troell also traditionally shoots his own films, as he does here with an assist from Mischa Gavrjusjov in a gorgeous black and white that complements the frequent, potent use of Hitler-era footage. What doesn’t work as well is the inclusion of several ghosts — including those of Segerstedt’s mother and, eventually, his wife and mistress — who tend to distract from the otherwise non-fanciful screenplay co-authored by Troell and Klaus Rifbjerg.
The Last Sentence’s cast can’t be faulted in any way. Danish actor Jesper Christensen (best known to American audiences as villainous Mr. White in the more recent Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) plays Segerstedt as appropriately intellectual and prideful yet doing the best he knows how to do to keep the key people in his life happy. Despite her character’s cuckolded status, Ulla Skoog is luminous as Puste, Segerstedt’s wife, while Pernilla August (aka Anakin Skywalker’s mother, Shmi, in Star Wars: Episodes I and II) stuns as the socially powerful but not invulnerable Maja. Adults looking for intelligent viewing in the summer haze of wannabe blockbusters will be hard-pressed to find anything better than The Last Sentence.
One of those struggling wannabes, though, should not be discounted. Edge of Tomorrow, starring Tom Cruise as an accidentally time-tripping soldier up against a vicious alien invasion, is one of the best, most intelligent, most exciting and surprisingly funny special effects-laden epics I have seen in several summers. Cruise capitalizes on his cockiness, athletic physicality (it is hard to believe he is now in his 50’s) and emotional reserves, resulting in a terrific performance. Emily Blunt nearly matches him as a heroine of the war against the aliens who understands the phenomenon that Cruise’s character is experiencing, and by helping him master it hopes to turn the tide against the crafty marauders. As adapted by a trio of ace screenwriters from a Japanese graphic novel and directed by Hollywood maverick Doug Liman, Edge of Tomorrow is completely engaging and a model of cinematic craftsmanship from page to screen. It absolutely deserves to do better at the American box office (its doing well internationally) than it has thus far. Maybe it will, starting tomorrow.
The Last Sentence: B+
Edge of Tomorrow: A
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.