You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Devil’s Arithmetic

A unique collaboration between Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers' production companies, telepic is an absorbing, grim and only slightly earnest Holocoast drama. Touting it as a family film, as Showtime is, may be stretching things. Still, it could be an effective teaching aid for those who, like the film's protagonist , are disaffected kids who discount the importance of history.

With:
Hannah ..... Kirsten Dunst Rivkah ..... Brittany Murphy Rabbi ..... Paul Freeman Lenore ..... Mimi Rogers Aunt Eva ..... Louise Fletcher Ariel ..... Nitzan Sharran Leah ..... Shelly Skandrani Yetta ..... Kirsty McFarland

A unique collaboration between Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers’ production companies, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” is an absorbing, grim and only slightly earnest Holocoast drama. Touting it as a family film, as Showtime is, may be stretching things — indeed, the film is probably too intense for some of the pre- and early-teen audience at which Jane Yolen’s source novel is aimed. Still, it could be an effective teaching aid for those who, like the film’s protagonist , are disaffected kids who discount the importance of history.

Kirsten Dunst (“Interview With the Vampire,” “Small Soldiers”) stars as Hannah, a rebellious Jewish teen. When first seen, she’s considering getting a tattoo with friends. Only the fact that she’s late for her family’s Passover seder — an event she has little interest in attending — prevents her from joining her pals.

At the Seder, Hannah gets drunk on wine (“I’m being religious,” she explains). When her Aunt Eva (Louise Fletcher) asks her to open the door for the prophet Elijah, she stumbles into a mysterious hall that transports her to Poland circa 1941. Of course, Hannah is about to learn, viscerally and firsthand , why her relatives consider their faith so precious.

This extended, fairly expository opening plays a little shakily. Hannah eyes an Orthodox Jew as if he’s some sort of exotic, when it seems likely she’d have encountered a few in her day. And no one seems to have figured out how Hannah should respond when she finds herself in this most unusual situation, so Dunst’s performance at this point is curiously blank. (Hannah’s willful ignorance of Jewish tradition conveniently allows for elucidation of customs for non-Jewish audiences.)

Nonetheless, once over this hump, director Donna Deitch, whose credits include multiple episodes of “ER,” “NYPD Blue” and “Murder One” and the Oprah Winfrey miniseries “The Women of Brewster Place,” responds with a gritty, powerful depiction of concentration-camp existence. It’s here, most crucially, that the film refuses to condescend to its target audience.

There’s little physical violence onscreen, but plenty of wrenching psychological violence as the Nazis abuse their captives. Most harrowing is a subplot involving a pregnant woman who attempts to hide her condition from the Nazis.

Dunst, who looks fairly shiksa-like — but that could be the point here — gives an unself-conscious, sensitive performance, and her moments of epiphany are credible. Once her hair is chopped off at the camps, she blends eerily into the crowds. Brittany Murphy, as Rivkah, a young woman who befriends Hannah in Poland, brings an odd but intriguing ethereal quality to her performance.

There’s a fairly predictable plot twist, and the film’s conclusion clumsily melds the grueling reality of the camps with “The Wizard of Oz” — just a couple of examples of the tug of war between this unflinching production and the conventions of children’s literature.

Adults should be prepared to discuss the film, frankly and sensitively, with children. Younger fans of the book could be traumatized by such a potent visual realization of the story. At January’s TV press tour, Hoffman considered the prospect of his 11-year-old daughter seeing this film: “I suspect this will hurt her, but I suspect that it’s an important hurt.”

Outside of some stagy sequences involving scores of extras, tech credits are excellent, from the near-monochromatic tones of Greg Melton’s production design and Jacek Laskus’ lensing to Frederic Talgorn’s elegiac score.

The Devil's Arithmetic

Showtime; Sun. March 28, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Toronto and Lithuania by Punch 21 Prods., Millbrook Farm Prods. and Showtime. Executive producers, Chris Ciaffa, Jay Cohen, Mimi Rogers, Dustin Hoffman; co-executive producer, Robert J. Avrech; producers, Murray Schisgal, Lee Gottsegen; director, Donna Deitch; writer, Avrech; based on the novel by Jane Yolen.

Crew: Camera, Jacek Laskus; editor, Robin Katz; music, Frederic Talgorn; production designer, Greg Melton; casting, John and Ros Hubbard, Lisa Anne Porter (U.K.), MariaArmstrong, Catherine Fogarty (Canada). 2 HOURS.

Cast: Hannah ..... Kirsten Dunst Rivkah ..... Brittany Murphy Rabbi ..... Paul Freeman Lenore ..... Mimi Rogers Aunt Eva ..... Louise Fletcher Ariel ..... Nitzan Sharran Leah ..... Shelly Skandrani Yetta ..... Kirsty McFarland

More TV

  • The Simpsons

    All the Thanksgiving TV Marathons You Can Binge This Weekend

    A unique collaboration between Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers’ production companies, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” is an absorbing, grim and only slightly earnest Holocoast drama. Touting it as a family film, as Showtime is, may be stretching things — indeed, the film is probably too intense for some of the pre- and early-teen audience at which […]

  • '89 Blocks' Set to Kick Off

    TV News Roundup: '89 Blocks' Set to Kick Off Fox Sports Films 'Magnify' Series

    A unique collaboration between Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers’ production companies, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” is an absorbing, grim and only slightly earnest Holocoast drama. Touting it as a family film, as Showtime is, may be stretching things — indeed, the film is probably too intense for some of the pre- and early-teen audience at which […]

  • The Chambermaid Ventana Sur Fest Traveler

    Ventana Sur Opens Shop for Latin American Film and TV

    A unique collaboration between Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers’ production companies, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” is an absorbing, grim and only slightly earnest Holocoast drama. Touting it as a family film, as Showtime is, may be stretching things — indeed, the film is probably too intense for some of the pre- and early-teen audience at which […]

  • This, photo shows the 21st Century

    Comcast, Disney Keep Focus on 21st Century Fox Assets Despite AT&T-Time Warner Battle

    A unique collaboration between Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers’ production companies, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” is an absorbing, grim and only slightly earnest Holocoast drama. Touting it as a family film, as Showtime is, may be stretching things — indeed, the film is probably too intense for some of the pre- and early-teen audience at which […]

  • Nancy Lesser HBO

    HBO Exec Nancy Lesser Sues TV Academy Over Broken Pelvis

    A unique collaboration between Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers’ production companies, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” is an absorbing, grim and only slightly earnest Holocoast drama. Touting it as a family film, as Showtime is, may be stretching things — indeed, the film is probably too intense for some of the pre- and early-teen audience at which […]

  • Scorpion-cbs TV Show

    How Scooter Braun Turned Luck With First Series 'Scorpion' Into Prolific TV Business

    A unique collaboration between Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers’ production companies, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” is an absorbing, grim and only slightly earnest Holocoast drama. Touting it as a family film, as Showtime is, may be stretching things — indeed, the film is probably too intense for some of the pre- and early-teen audience at which […]

  • Ted Sarandos Harvey Weinstein

    Netflix Won't Host Golden Globes Party With Weinstein Company

    A unique collaboration between Dustin Hoffman and Mimi Rogers’ production companies, “The Devil’s Arithmetic” is an absorbing, grim and only slightly earnest Holocoast drama. Touting it as a family film, as Showtime is, may be stretching things — indeed, the film is probably too intense for some of the pre- and early-teen audience at which […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content