Review: Malick finds beauty in war objector's struggle in 'A Hidden Life'

The director of "The Tree of Life" and "The Thin Red Line" is more purpose-driven here than he has been in decades

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Terrence Malick never met a gentle breeze he didn't want to bask in or a meadow he didn't stop to ponder. 

The maverick director has spent the last decade stopping to smell the roses in films at times mesmerizing ("The Tree of Life"), at times stupefying ("Knight of Cups"), each favoring free-form narrative and nature navel-gazing over traditional storytelling.

With "A Hidden Life," he makes his most conventional film in 40 years, while still mixing in his appreciation of Earth's treasures and his flair for sumptuous photography. It's a rich combination and makes for Malick's best since "Tree of Life." 

Valerie Pachner and August Diehl in "A Hidden Life."

Malick tells the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, a conscientious objector who refused to fight for the Nazis in WWII or pledge allegiance to Hitler. It's a story about the crushing loneliness of sacrifice and the toll taken by standing one's ground, not only on that individual but on those around him.

Jägerstätter (August Diehl, "Inglorious Basterds") is a farmer in 1939 called away from his village in the rolling hills of Austria to join the army. When he refuses to swear an oath to Hitler, he is jailed, and his wife, Franziska (Valerie Pachner) becomes the scourge of their village, spit on and cast aside by her peers. Jägerstätter eventually faces trial and is told if he signs a piece of paper stating his loyalty to Hitler he'll be freed, and must choose between his beliefs and his life. 

Malick and cinematopgrapher Jörg Widmer capture the resplendent beauty of upper Austria, which is cut against Jägerstätter's internal turmoil to stay true to his ideologies. It's an environmental daydream and a human nightmare rolled into one, Mother Nature vs. human nature, and Malick delivers it with purpose.


'A Hidden Life'


Rated PG-13: for thematic material including violent images

Running time: 180 minutes