David Leveaux transitions from theater director to first-time filmmaker with The Exception, a handsomely mounted but entirely uneven fictionalized account of the late years of Kaiser Willhelm.
The Exception, based on The Kaiser’s Last Kiss by Alan Judd, follows a German solider named Stefan Brandt (Jai Courtney), who is tasked with overseeing the security of Kaiser Willhelm (Oscar winner Christopher Plummer), who lives in a palatial estate in Holland with his wife fierce and loyal wife (Janet McTeer).
While at the Kaiser’s estate, Stefan is told of suspicions that a spy has been planted to snoop around about the goings on of the Kaiser. If that wasn’t a big enough task to take on, Brandt strikes up a romance with one of the Kaiser’s maids, Mieke (Lily James). Through stolen glances and secret trysts in the castle, Stefan and Mieke begin to fall in love, even though she is Jewish.
Most of The Exception plays like a historical soap opera, which in quite engaging in spurts. The movie’s forbidden romance – not without its sparks between the stars – often feels slight and an incomplete extra layer to the film. The questionable loyalties and murky politics supply The Exception with all of its intrigue, making it a worthy watch.
The movie also manages to do what so many have not – create a character for Courtney to show a bit of range within. For so long, Courtney has attached himself to dimwitted action flicks but he has yet to really find his footing as a leading man. Here, he finds the depths and complexities within Stefan and is able to prove he can do more than stumble through a lousy Die Hard sequel.
The movie’s true joy is watching Plummer have a blast as the Kaiser. He runs of the gamut of glorious scene-chewing and quiet, intimate moments with his wife. He is presented with threats and third act realizations and Plummer’s calm delivery is just as icy and entertaining as when he is projecting to the back of theater.
The Exception isn’t anything that will sear into your memory but shows great ambitions of a first time filmmaker and offers enough pleasures within to warrant a view.