It’s a middling historical drama, finely crafted and ever so slightly stodgy in spite of a compelling last act.
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Any controversy that might erupt over Roman Polanski’s decision to implicitly equate himself with one of history’s greatest victims of injustice is dissipated by the resultant film’s tepid listlessness.
A peevish and self-satisfied procedural that unravels the Dreyfus Affair with all the journalistic doggedness of “Spotlight,” but none of the same integrity.
One couldn’t wish for a more painstakingly researched or beautifully rendered account of the infamous Dreyfus affair than Roman Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy (J’Accuse).... Yet the result is oddly lacking in heart and soul, almost as though a mask of military discipline held it in check.
The film itself is utterly uncontroversial, solid, occasionally stolid, and perfectly fine.
An Officer and a Spy has a this-happened-and-then-this-happened quality. And that’s why the movie, beneath the two-dimensional jauntiness of its acting and the period vividness of its sets and costumes, feels more dutiful than riveting.
This is a sober, stiff-collared procedural, handsomely shot but also oddly bloodless until the more conventional paranoid-thriller rhythms of its final act kick in.
Jean Dujardin is quietly excellent as the French officer whose growing conviction that Alfred Dreyfus (Louis Garrel) is innocent of treason puts him on a collision course with his superiors. The Oscar-winning actor provides the film with its soulful centre, despite the familiarity of the material and its procedural tone.
It’s a solid, well-crafted piece of professional carpentry, like a heavy piece of Victorian furniture; built to last; built to be used. The longer you look at it, the more impressive it grows.