My wife and I just saw The Defeated aka Shadowplay on Netflix. A powerful, riveting, brutally honest, at times brutal, at times tender, eight-episode 2020 mini-series that takes place in Germany just after the Nazis lost the war in 1945. Co-produced by German and Canadian companies, it’s evocative of both Babylon Berlin and Hunters, with an on-the-scene Rome: Open City ambience and a piercing morality all its own.
Like all powerful, complex narratives, The Defeated has characters with all shades of loyalties and goals. They range from Max (NYPD cop on hand to help out in Germany, but really there to find his brother) and Elsie (a German cop determined to do the right thing), to Max’s brother Moritz (a psychotic Nazi hunter) and Tom (Max’s boss, lining his pocket with proceeds from smuggled art that the Nazi’s stole during the war) to the “Angel Maker” (a Nazi doctor who preys on young women) and Karin (a young woman who assists and urges the Angel Maker to do even more).
The action is literally searing and bone crunching, and the acting delivers. Taylor Kitsch puts in his best performance as Max since we saw him as Riggins in Friday Night Lights. Nina Hoss, whom I haven’t seen before, is excellent as Elsie. They and any character with a shred of decency struggle to navigate this strange new world in Germany, where the Nazis are officially gone but the ideology noxiously lingers, and those who are free of the ideology wonder how they can bring a more sane, decent life into being.
From our current vantage point, it seems like they succeeded. But the deeper lesson of The Defeated may well be that the Nazi perspective lingers still, because indeed it does, as we see in many places, like the continuing mistreatment of immigrants seeking refuge and freedom at the southern border of the United States.
There is supposed to be a second season of The Defeated in the making. I’ll be back with a review when it’s streaming.