Made for and released on Showtime last year, Varian's War is based on the true story of Varian Fry (played by William Hurt). In 1938, Fry was in Berlin and witnessed firsthand the persecution of the Jews. Upon his return to the U.S., Fry and like-minded individuals set up the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC). Under the financial support of the ERC and the encouragement of Eleanor Roosevelt, Fry went to France with the purpose of aiding prominent artists, intellectuals, writers, scientists, and scholars escape the Gestapo in Vichy France. With the help of several collaborators (played by Julia Ormond, Alan Arkin, and Matt Craven), Fry was able to help some two thousand people escape until his deportation from France in 1941. Varian's War begins with the events that led to his decision to go to France and ends with him helping the first batch of people escape to Spain.
I've always loved history, so I was interested in seeing Varian's War, which takes place before the U.S. got involved in World War II. Most movies I've seen of that time period focus on the wars in Europe, but this film only briefly mentions the conflicts between Germany and the other European nations. However, as interesting as Varian Fry's story is in a historical sense, Varian's War is less than engaging. I struggled to maintain interest throughout, partially because it was difficult understanding portions of the dialogue and partially because the story is presented in such a mechanical way.
Varian's War is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen. The transfer has a fair amount of specks and smaller marks, as well as a few spots and scratches. Grain is also visible, though rather uncommon. Two marks, which may be fingerprints, also appear in Chapter 3. Colors throughout are bright and vibrant, with accurate flesh tones and deep blacks.
Varian's War is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, Dolby 2.0 Stereo in English, and Dolby 2.0 Stereo in Spanish. The 5.1 track adds quite a few ambient effects to the surrounds, but the track is still firmly anchored to the front soundstage. Dialogue throughout is sometimes hard to understand, thanks to some almost incomprehensible accents. The volume of the speech isn't consistent either, so I had to adjust it occasionally. Unfortunately, no subtitles are present.
Extras include interviews with Hurt, Ormond, and Redgrave, text design stills and photos, art production stills and photos, text information about Varian Fry, a partial list of the people Fry helped, filmographies, clips from other Showtime releases, and a weblink. Of these, my favorite was easily the list of people Fry helped, which lists their name and accomplishments in a short paragraph.
With an above average audiovisual presentation and some fairly interesting, if short, extras, Varian's War makes a decent rental for those interested in the events leading up to the United State's involvement in World War II or history in general. However, those looking for an engaging drama should look elsewhere.