American Traitor' Review

‘American Traitor’ Review: The Trial of Axis Sally, Impressive Cast and Story

Meadows may have been referring to the narrative of an “unfairly” maligned blonde actress. Her heart was in the right place despite how things appeared on the outside – remember, this is not a legally enforceable presumption. The specifics are sketchy, and the facts are shaky, but Mildred Gillars (Williams) looks willing to participate in the Nazi propaganda machine when “American Traitor” first introduces her. The year is 1941 (as shown by a title card), and Hitler is still attempting to discourage America from joining his scheme to overthrow Europe.

Gillars must come on the radio, speak into the microphone in a breathy voice that might blow Marilyn Monroe’s dress up, and unnerve the army lads back home into remaining. “What chance do you have?” she coos like a murderous Betty Boop over the radio as Joseph Goebbels (Thomas Kretschmann) gets hot and bothered in the studio behind her.

Of course, Goebbels’ name didn’t have the same historical weight at the time (he wasn’t even present for the “Axis Sally” live broadcasts in real life), and it’s conceivable that Gillars either didn’t comprehend the part she was playing or didn’t know how to get out of it without being killed. Maybe she was a white supremacist, or perhaps she was simply an Ohio girl who fell in love with a German who claimed he wouldn’t marry her if she moved back home.

Williams’ lifeless performance — dressed for a funeral and slathered with a thick black lip, the actress spends the entire film tilting her head in a frozen half-smile that reduces Gillars to nothing more than a life-sized Barbie Doll. Polish, Darryl Hicks, and Vance Owen adapted William E. Owen’s book “Axis Sally”. Even the cuts in this film have their shortcuts.

'American Traitor' Review

Anyone looking for a morally complex depiction of life during WWII would be disappointed by the film’s ultra-didactic parallel plotline set during Gillars’ 1948 trial in Washington, DC. Enter Al Pacino as showboat celebrity defense lawyer James Laughlin and Swen Temmel as Billy Owen, a naive young co-counsel hired by Laughlin since Temmel is Williams’ lover and he needed to play someone in this event.

Anyone looking for a morally complex depiction of life during WWII would be disappointed by the film’s ultra-didactic parallel plotline set during Gillars’ 1948 trial in Washington, DC. Enter Al Pacino as showboat celebrity defense lawyer James Laughlin and Swen Temmel as Billy Owen, a naive young co-counsel hired by Laughlin since Temmel is Williams’ lover and he needed to play someone in this event.

The decision to jump between the two timeframes stifles any narrative momentum or dramatic coherence as “American Traitor” works tirelessly to convince us that Gillars was a victim of the same misinformation she spewed on the airways. People are more readily influenced when they believe they are acting on their own free choice, but even the most astute lines of dialogue fail to make an effect when the “trial of the century” around them appears to be taking place at the DMV.

The money spent to create a convincing sense of national interest appears to have gone to Pacino, whose loud-quiet-loud schtick is as well suited to courtroom dramas as it is to Pixies songs. “You don’t strike me as a man who does charity,” Gillars states to Laughlin in a line that resonates with unintended meaning.

The guy may be on auto-pilot for the majority of the film, but he closes with the kind of barnstorming monologue that you usually have to pay Broadway ticket prices to hear Pacino deliver. It’s hard to recall what he says in it, but he shouts it with such enthusiasm that it sells you on the intense power of the spoken word more than Axis Sally ever could. We can only hope that whatever Williams spent on the front-row seat she may or may not have acquired for herself, was more precious to her than to anybody else.

Vertical Entertainment’s “American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally” is now showing in select theaters and VOD.

SCORE: 4/10

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