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‘American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally’ review: In defense of Nazis?

What am I supposed to think?

American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally is quite the mouthful for a movie title. That being said, the true story of Nazi propagandist Mildred Gillars (Meadow Williams) is an interesting one. Gillars was an American actress who made radio broadcasts in support of the Axis powers during World War II. 

There is the premise for an intriguing story. What would make a Midwestern girl from Ohio give radio broadcasts in praise of Nazi Germany? Axis Sally tries to take a sympathetic look at Gillars in explaining why she would turn her back on the country she was born in. 

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This requires some odd positioning. Joseph Goebbels (Thomas Krescthmann) is known as one of history’s greatest monsters. Wisely, the movie does not try to paint Hitler’s propaganda minister in a different light. Instead, Axis Sally has him point out serious issues with America. It is a strange decision that leaves audiences wondering if they are supposed to understand Germany’s point of view or sympathize with Gillars.

What ends up happening, is the entire point of the film becomes undermined. Gillars is put in situations that would normally make her the heroine. Yet, the scripting and plot do not really make her a likable character. It seems like the idea was to give the story a modern look. But trying to make a pro Nazi American as both a symbol of feminine power and a victim who has no control over her life does not work. 

WWII buffs may appreciate the story being told, if not the accuracy of it. Axis Sally alternates between wartime Berlin and the trial in the United States. The courtroom scenes are the best parts. Al Pacino is great as James Laughlin, the attorney who defends Gillars during the trial. It is always fun to see Pacino go all out in court, but it is not enough to save this movie.

American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally comes to select theaters and on demand May 28

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