AMERICAN TRAITOR: THE TRIAL OF AXIS SALLY
(director: Michael Polish; screenwriters: Vance Owen/Darryl Hicks/based on the book “Axis Sally Confidential” by William E. Owen and Vance Owen; cinematographer: Jayson Crothers; editor: Raúl Marchand Sánchez; music: Kubilay Uner; cast: Meadow Williams (Mildred Gillars), Al Pacino (James J. Laughlin), Carsten Norgaard (Max Otto Koishvitz), Sven Temmel (Billy Owen), Thomas Kretschmann (Dr. Joseph Goebbels), Mitch Pileggi (Prosecutor John Kelley), Lala Kent (Elva), Jasper Polish (Everett), John D. Hickman (Foreman); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Meadow Williams/ Randall Emmett, George Furla, Tucker Tooley, Vance Owen, Luillo Ruiz, Shaun Sanghani; Vertical Entertainment; 2021)
“Directed without polish.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A shrill costume wartime drama directed without polish by Michael Polish (“Force of Nature”/”Big Sur”). The slight film has no gravitas and by being so plodding tends to be more annoying than informative. The turgid screenplay is by Polish, Vance Owen and Darryl Hicks. It’s based on the novel “Axis Sally Confidential” by William E. Owen and Vance Owen. The same Billy Owen (Sven Temmel) plays Pacino’s inexperienced defense lawyer partner.
It’s a fictionalized version of the true story of the American wannabe actress Mildred Gillars (Meadow Williams), who propagandized for the Nazis on German state radio for much of World War II–from 1941 to 1945. Known as Axis Sally, she was arrested in Germany after the war and was extradited to Washington (the film was shot in Puerto Rico, an unlikely substitute for Berlin and Washington) where she was indicted on multiple counts of treason and conspiracy. The gruff pencil-mustached lawyer, James Laughlin (Al Pacino), gets her case dumped on him and tries to defend her by saying she was victimized by men using her for sex–which worked even if it was a laughable defense for his guilty as sin client: the driven, hate mongering, shallow and not likable American traitor.
Flashbacks intercut throughout her 1948 trial to tell us of her activities in Germany. Whereas she hangs out at bars, meets with the monstrous Nazi sexual predator propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels (Thomas Kretschmann) and schemes with her controlling lover and German radio producer (Carsten Norgaard) on how to present herself in public.
She’s not clever, interesting or a good person, but is sexy. The uninteresting film is not smartly done and not a good watch. But it’s sexy, has good production values and Pacino, in a small part, is still a joy to watch. He gives the viewer something to grab onto, as they might grimace at how lightly the Nazi-loving woman was sentenced considering how treacherous was her act of treason.
REVIEWED ON 6/3/2021 GRADE: C-