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Strong acting allows Swing Kids to overcome slow plot

Swing Kids
Directed by Thomas Carter.
Written by Jonathan Marc Feldman.
Starring Robert Sean Leonard
and Christian Bale.
Loews Copley Place.

By Joshua M. Andresen
Staff Reporter

Although it offers a rather unexciting plot, Swing Kids is amazing nonetheless. This well-researched film is wonderfully acted and the material is presented in a clear and meaningful manner.

The movie is set in 1939 Germany, where "swing kids" are a group of German youth who rebel against the Nazi movement. They wear their hair long, dress up in the latest English fashions, and dance to American swing music.

Peter Muller (Robert Sean Leonard) and Thomas Berger (Christian Bale) are best of friends and swing kids to the core. After getting caught for stealing a radio from a shop as a prank inspired by anti-Nazi sentiments, Peter is forced to join the Hitler Youth, a program meant to indoctrinate the German teenagers with the propaganda of the Third Reich. Thomas was involved in the prank as well, and joins to keep Peter company. They both believe that they can have everything: the power and freedom that comes with association with the Hitler Youth as well as the rebelliousness and freedom of attending swing kid parties at night. Eventually, they realize that they can not be mere members of the Nazi party without being parts of it.

Peter and Thomas go different ways in response to this conflict. Thomas starts to take the propaganda to heart while Peter becomes introspective and realizes the wrongness of even being involved with the Nazi party. This puts enormous strain on their friendship, creating the main conflict of the movie.

The acting in this movie is impeccable. Leonard definitely deserves an Oscar nomination for his role. His actions are always perfectly motivated, and the deeply introspective and moving scenes are heartfelt and believable. Bale and the supporting cast are excellent as well, topped off with a cameo by Kenneth Branagh.

The show-stopping dance sequences in this film are a real treat. The jitterbug dance steps are dazzling, with legs moving all over and women (and in one humorous role-reversal, a man) lifted and tossed all around. These scenes are pure fun, drawing a strong contrast between the nightly parties with swing music and the harsh reality that everyone lives during the day.

Despite this, the action of the film at times merely plods along. Though the acting performances and the dancing and the music entertain throughout, neither the plot nor the storyline offer any suspense or surprises. Everything that happens is expected or inevitable.

The story's material and the conflicts, however, are presented wonderfully. The audience views life from the perspective of Peter and Thomas, resulting in a believable sympathetic view of Naziism and a portrayal of the sadness of Nazi beliefs at the same time. The audience sees the world through young eyes, making the reactions of both Peter and Thomas understandable. This is the triumph of Swing Kids.