Review: 'The Exception' Starring Jai Courtney, Lily James, And Christopher Plummer

The Exception is a new drama set in World War II, starring Jai Courtney and Lily James as two people on opposing sides of the war. Despite their contrasting duties and allegiances, they find love with each other at the worst possible time. 

First, I must acknowledge that I’m not a huge Jai Courtney fan. I typically find him to be a very boring performer to watch. Also, with starring roles in films like Terminator: Genisys, A Good Day to Die Hard, and Suicide Squad, he doesn’t have the best track record in terms of picking solid projects. So I have to admit, I went into The Exception carrying this prejudice and not expecting much. As it turns out, I am happy to report that my assumptions were wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by how totally okay The Exception is.

It does start out rough. The biggest problem I had with the film is with its opening act. The first half hour of The Exception really seemed to be in line with what I had feared. We spend a great deal of time right at the start of the movie with Jai Courtney’s playboy-Nazi-Officer-with-a-heart-of-gold character, Brandt. It’s made clear that we should be sympathizing with him for being a bit less of a Nazi than the other Nazis he works with. Understandably, this just doesn’t play right. Setting aside my personal distaste for Jai Courtney, as an audience member I found it really difficult to learn to care about this character. It’s pretty hard to love him, and identify with him, and root for him to win… despite him being a Nazi officer. As the film goes on and shifts its focus slightly, I came to appreciate the characterization they attempted for Brandt. Regardless, though, starting a film off by instructing the audience to sympathize with a Nazi is not the best move.

Brandt is assigned to be the personal bodyguard for bitter former German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer). The Kaiser’s castle is rumored to be under surveillance by an English spy, who may or may not secretly be housemaid Mieke (Lily James). She and Brandt start an illicit affair, and suddenly The Exception gets genuinely interesting. Not only do Lily James and Christopher Plummer give excellent and multi-layered performances, but their characters’ complicated who’s-lying-to-who plotlines and complex motivations really get the movie going. It’s now interesting that Courtney’s Nazi guard is easy-going enough that he might compromise his mission for the safety of the woman he loves. Despite his character’s disgusting morality, it’s fascinating to watch Plummer monologue as a man jealous of Hitler for ruling with the iron fist he wishes to exert. Although the star-crossed lovers plot is not the least bit new, when set against a backdrop this complex, it does become really investing. By the end of The Exception, I was legitimately wrapped up in the drama, and excited to see where the plot would turn next.

That being said, it is hard to ever fully surrender to the suspense of a fully fictional story set around actual historical events you’re familiar with. It’s an intense spy thriller storyline, filled with talk of planned assassinations. As audience members in 2017, however, we know these plans won’t happen, or at least won’t succeed. It’s a typical trap for historical fiction, and unfortunately it does occasionally slow down The Exception.

Overall, I did rather enjoy the film. Although it takes off on an incredibly rocky start, The Exception definitely picks up speed as it keeps going, and becomes a pretty engaging costume drama romance by its end.

3 out of 5