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posted: 7/17/2014 6:30 AM

'Last Sentence' should be inspiring, not dry

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Jan Troell's lackluster black-and-white drama "The Last Sentence" tells the true story of a great and strong-principled Swedish newspaper man who campaigned against the rising Nazis while his countrymen and political leaders followed a disastrous policy of appeasement.

We find out that Torgny Segerstedt (played by Jesper Christensen with pugnacious acidity) was a theological scholar before he became editor-in-chief of Gothenburg's liberal daily newspaper, the Handels-och Sjofartstidning.

He loves truth and hates evil. His eloquent after-dinner speeches warn of disaster to come.

"If we fail to speak openly about the crimes being committed under Nazi rule, we are not only hostages to the lie, but to its promoters!"

And this succint gem: "The devil is synonymous with Adolf Hitler!"

This should be an inspiring tale of a real-life press prophet ignored, ridiculed and threatened in his own land. But this well-intentioned tale never breaks free from a dry and visually anemic history lesson that could easily be adapted into a monotonous stage play.

"The Last Sentence" turns out to be a lesser character study fascinated by the editor's flaws and intellectual narcissism. He treats his Norwegian wife terribly, conducts a brazenly open affair with the Jewish wife of his publisher and often talks to his apparently deceased mother.

We don't see much of what's going on in the outside world beyond a few archival film clips of Nazis being nasty. We never get a full sense of the opposition and outrage created by Segerstedt's cutting editorials. (On the phone, a caller threatens to kill the editor, who calmly invites his would-be assassin to dinner.)

Here is a rare motion picture that would have benefited from following the Hollywood political underdog formula by beefing up the conflict and allowing us to side with the editor, blemishes, warts and all.

"I have written in sand," a dying Segerstedt laments about his anti-Nazi campaign. So has this movie.

"The Last Sentence" opens at the Music Box, Chicago. With subtitles. Not rated. 124 minutes. ★ ★

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