Ever see a film that just completely blows you away. You want to tell everyone about it. Yet, to explain the story, you’ll just ruin it. That’s the dilemma in trying to review a film like “Master of the Game.” It’s quite simple. If I actually give you the blow-by-blow plot description along with the twist after act one, I will completely ruin your potential enjoyment of this movie.
So, here’s a taste of the set up. It’s the end of World War II and the Nazis are in disarray at the end of the war. Four Jewish prisoners elude their captors and are on the run. During a stormy night, the four escapees stumble into a cabin, that just happens to be occupied by four Nazi soldiers including a captain. Now, I hesitate to tell you more, because here is where it gets intense. Each of them are executed, one by one. Simply for amusement. But before they are shot in cold blood, two questions are asked of them: What is your name? And who are you? BLAM! The prisoner falls dead. What is your name? And who are you? BLAM! The next prisoner falls dead. What is your name? And who are you? BLAM! A third prisoner falls dead. The fourth is left alive, if only to inflict further mental torture. This execution scene is harrowing and difficult to watch, even as the violence takes place tastefully off screen.
The final prisoner, a writer, seems to amuse the captain. The prisoner offers a challenge to his Nazi captors – play a game and at the end of that game, he will prove that he is superior to them. (Uygar Aktan has commented that the concept for the movie is based on a study from the 1960s in which children were told they were superior based on the color of their eyes. That’s all I can say.) I won’t divulge exactly what the game is, or the rules, but the following hour results in one of the great mind-fucks in film history.
Written, starring and produced by Turkish actor Uygar Aktan, “Master of the Game” is Uygar’s movie. As the only surviving Jewish prisoner, we only know his character only by the number tattooed on his forearm. Uygar’s performance lends believeability to a premise that may initially be hard to swallow. But the reason we believe it is because of such solid acting all around. Once the game begins, the intensity level goes off the charts and put me on the edge of my seat until the finale.
This is Austin, Texas director Jeff Stolhand’s third feature and he clearly shows the promise of even greater things to come. It’s also just refreshing to see such an original independent film amidst so much of the indie film clichés like the dour family dramas, twentysomething angst or the tired “two-lesbians-on-the-road-to-Texas-in-search-of-heroin” type of movies that permeate the festival circuit.
“Master of the Game” is a gripping tale of survival and the kind of smart thriller that will gain much-deserved attention for both director Stolhand and actor/writer Uygar Aktan. Simply a stunning piece of filmmaking.