Directed by Werner Herzog, starring Tim Roth, Jouko Ahola, Anna Gourari, Jacob Wein, Max Raabe, Gustav Peter Woehler and Udo Kier.
'Invincible' marks the feature film return of legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog after his foray exclusively into documentary in the last decade of the last century. Herzog's preoccupations remain unchanged, however, and this is yet another addition to his canon of narratives dealing with the human soul and of natural wonders captured under arduous circumstances. Unfortunately, it's one of the least interesting pieces in Herzog's oeuvre.
Poland, 1932. A freakishly strong Jewish blacksmith named Zishe Breitbart (Ahola) disposes of the He-Man of a travelling circus troupe, and carves out a reputation for himself as the pinnacle of human physical power. News of his exploits spread and he is soon invited to Berlin to perform in a cabaret-style music hall popular with Nazi politicians and sympathisers. Torn between his duty to his family and his desire to give his natural 'gift' some degree of artistic expression and meaning, the humble Breitbart opts to travel to Berlin and star in Hanussen's 'Palace of the Occult'.
Hanussen is Erik-Jan Hanussen (Roth), a nasty and highly manipulative hypnotist who uses his club to ingratiate himself with the ascending Nazi party. Hanussen showcases Breitbart in a blonde wig as Siegfried – the physical embodiment of all that is powerful and dominant about the Aryan race. Naturally, the Nazi clientele lap it up, but Breitbart/Siegried soon tires of the deception, and publicly announces his Jewish heritage. In the process, Hanussen's concealed Jewish identity is also revealed, which only serves to increase business in the club (as more Jews flock there) and fails to prevent him realising his ambition, albeit briefly, of being appointed head of a Ministry of the Occult under Hitler.
Breitbart, newly convinced of his role as prophet to the Jews, returns to Poland to warn his people of the imminent Nazi threat. But, continuing Herzog's fascination with prophets doomed to failure, he's unsuccessful in his bid to convince them of the menace which Hitler and his cohorts present.
Based on a true story, 'Invincible' is ultimately defeated by its failure to invest the story with any real sense of dramatic interest and entertainment. Throughout, it has a dreaded air and look of a second-rate TV mini-series, and while the colour and tone accurately reflect the period, a keen sense of dramatic adroitness is crucially absent. As Hanussen, Tim Roth gives a crudely snarling and stuffy performance, as if harbouring an innate suspicion of his incompatibility with the role. As the Hercules of the piece, two-time World's Strongest Man titleholder Jouko Ahola is to be pitied. Blessed with immense physical prowess he may well be, but Ahola is simply not an actor. And in truth, cruel as it may sound, he makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Spencer Tracy.
It's good to see Herzog back in the feature film realm; he's better than what the field of documentary allows – but he's also better than this.