Admittedly, Invincible is not one of Herzog's crowning achievements. It is not an epic testament to the limits of human (and occasionally, cinematic) experience, as his masterpieces tend to. That said, this might not be an appropriate introduction to the man behind such difficult (I guess that would be the word) achievements as Every Man for Himself and God Against All, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, and Fitzcarraldo. However, Invincible is Herzog's first film in 18 years to be released theatrically and his first return to the Nazi era in almost twice as many years -- since his debut with Signs of Life (1968). Which begs the question: has Herzog lost his edge?

Based on a true story, Invincible chronicles Zishe Breitbart's (Jouka Ahola) journey from a young, Jewish blacksmith of great strength to the renowned "strongest man in the world" in a Berlin nightclub just before the Nazis come to power. Zishe gets his start after he beats the strongman in the circus and an agent offers to find him work in Berlin as strongman. Initially resistant, Zishe ventures to Berlin on the belief that God has something in mind for him, leaving behind his family, including his favorite brother Benjamin (Jacob Wein), the most intelligent nine-year-old his East Poland town has ever seen. In Berlin, Zishe gets a position immediately in a nightclub run by a con man -- clairvoyant Erik Jan Hanussen (Tim Roth) -- playing the historic German hero Siegfried in the club's variety show. At first, Zishe is too overwhelmed and intimidated to see the what is happening to the Jews (then again, who wasn't?), but, after Zishe's mother and brother Benjamin come for a visit, Zishe reveals himself as a Polish Jew to a room full of Nazis and the precarious balance is tipped.

Continue reading: Invincible (2001) Review