The Chosen is a first-rate adaptation of Chaim Potok’s novel of friendship between two young Jewish men of widely different religio-cultural upbringings and their individual relationships with strong fathers.
Set in the latter years of World War II, the story has the principles, cultural Jew Barry Miller and orthodox Hassidic Jew Robby Benson, meeting as opponents in a baseball game. To Miller, a typical American kid, Benson’s Hassidic upbringing complete with 19th-century attire and long side-curls makes him akin to a creature from outer space.
Yet the relationship grows and Miller is asked to meet with Benson’s legendary father, an orthodox rabbi portrayed by Rod Steiger. In full-bearded Hassidic tradition, Steiger must approve of his son’s non-sect friends.
Director Kagan and writer Gordon do wonders with the poignant material. Despite the obvious ethnic slant this is a picture which communicates universally.
Steiger gives an exceptional performance as the somewhat tyranical but loving patriarch whose primary concern is his son’s welfare. Maximilian Schell provides an interesting contrast as a Jewish intellectual, reacting to the Holocaust and he instills his son with deep moral values.