Saturday, 24 October 2020

Movie Review: Shining Through (1992)


A World War Two spy drama and romance, Shining Through enjoys sterling production values but suffers from wonky plot elements.

An elderly Linda Voss (Melanie Griffith) is being interviewed by the BBC about her experiences during World War Two. In flashback, she recounts her story starting in 1940. Half-Jewish, raised by working class parents in Queens, fluent in German, and a big fan of movies about war and espionage, Linda secures a secretarial job in Manhattan. She is assigned to assist undercover intelligence officer Ed Leland (Michael Douglas) as he questions German immigrants about the locations of factories and rail lines in their homeland. 

They fall in love, but Linda and Ed's romance is interrupted when the US joins the war and he is deployed behind enemy lines. When he re-emerges she volunteers for a dangerous spy mission to infiltrate a Nazi commander's home and steal bomb-manufacturing secrets. In Berlin Linda connects with Allied spies Friedrichs (John Gielgud) and the alluring Margrete von Eberstein (Joely Richardson). After some mishaps she secures employment as a domestic worker for General Franz-Otto Dietrich (Liam Neeson), and attempts to track down Jewish relatives who may be hiding from the Nazis.

An adaptation of the Susan Isaacs novel written and directed by David Seltzer, Shining Through exudes quality thanks to a polished look. The 1940s are recreated in fine detail, both in the United States and especially in Germany under the Nazis. With filming locations in eastern Germany just after unification, Seltzer captures picturesque streetscapes, buildings, offices, mansions, uniforms, cars, trams and trains from the era. Nazi symbols dominate, Germany on a full war footing but also starting to experience the sting of Allied bombing raids.

But while the visuals are rich, the story is handicapped by a higher than usual level of clunkiness, the plot holes threatening to swallow the entire adventure. Ed is a master spy frequently operating in enemy territory but cannot speak a word of German. He agrees to deploy the untrained and half-Jewish Linda into the field for a crucial mission. The seemingly well-connected and rich Dietrich hires Linda to live in his home and look after his children without the most basic confirmation of her background. She then hustles his young but observant children around on buses and into a fishmonger's store run by an Allied spy.

The action scenes are equally improbable, including a confrontation with a double agent and a climax at a border crossing, both veering towards death-defying over-the-top melodramatics.

Melanie Griffith helps navigate the rough patches with a seductively gutsy performance. Michael Douglas is surprisingly stone faced, and as a result the romance between Ed and Linda operates at only lukewarm temperatures. Liam Neeson hints at a complex character residing within Dietrich, and deserved more screen time.

Peppered with references to 1940s World War Two movies, Shining Through rides an innocent and old fashioned attitude all the way to a pat ending, but the feel-good intentions are forced to shine through perforated logic.



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