“What if I told you that your family was murdered?” we are asked at the beginning of the film. What would give you a sense of justice? Or of satisfaction? Or just of something more than powerlessness? Those issues are explored with some nuance in this somber, dark drama.
The character in the heart of the story is fictional. His name is Max, played by August Diehl. It is through his sunken, haunted eyes that we see the different ways the devastated survivors think about what to do next. Some leave for what was then British-controlled Palestine, with the hope of creating what would become Israel. Others stay behind, trying to extract vengeance.
Max tries to return to his home, looking for his wife and son. He asks the man who is living there how we could have betrayed Max’s family. “This house is mine now,” Max’s one-time neighbor says, pointing his gun. “Just because the war is over does not mean we can’t kill Jews anymore.”
Max meets up with members of the sympathetic British Jewish Infantry Brigade Group, who are working to relocate survivors to Palestine. They are also killing Nazis who have been identified by at least two sources as responsible for killing Jews. They conduct interrogations, make sure the families are not present, and then shoot or strangle them. They believe these restrictions give them some semblance of legitimacy.
And then there are the Nakam, who refuse even those limitations, and whose goal is just to kill as many Germans as possible. They consider every German equally complicit, have little faith in the Nuremberg trials for producing justice, and call themselves Avengers. Their name is from the biblical word for vengeance, with “dark, dangerous” implications. They say of the Brigade Group, “We might have the same rage but not the same path,” and they tell its leader, “I wish you could stand with us. I hope you won’t stand against us.”