The most fun I had with The Young Karl Marx is imagining it as an offshoot of Yahoo Serious as Albert Einstein in Young Einstein (1988). But no, this is not a goofy comedy about the foundational praxis of communism, which, honestly sounds amazing. Instead, The Young Karl Marx is director Raoul Peck’s (I Am Not Your Negro) attempt at both humanizing the figures of Karl Marx (August Diehl, Allied) and Friedrich Engels and laying out the creation of The Communist Manifesto in approachable terms.
This works, sort of. Yes, it’s an accessible look at the people behind these radical ideas, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily entertaining. There’s a bit too much reverence, a bit too much stuffiness to the way things are handled, a lot of which feels as if it is tied to its period setting. There’s an almost innate tendency to take things set in period and make them stiff, which The Young Karl Marx does as well. There’s simply a lack of energy and true verve here. And while the movie isn’t the intense, dull slog it could be, this straightforward approach does make it a bit forgettable.
Part of the issue is that Peck’s purpose is to illuminate and champion. This is perfectly fine. He comes across as much as an activist as a filmmaker, which isn’t inherently a problem. Art and politics should intertwine, and they obviously will — and do — in a film about Karl Marx. The issue is that as well-intentioned as Peck may be, his film just isn’t moving. It doesn’t really stir your humanity, a pity since the film’s subject is inherently human — humane.
You might have noticed that I’m someone who would consider himself sympathetic to The Young Karl Marx‘s worldview. And while this is true, I still can’t say that I’m the target audience for this movie. Perhaps it’s because I’m not quite sure who the target audience is. The biopic structure of the movie, one that sets itself up like an examination of a famous composer on his way to writing his grand symphony, leaves little room for surprises. It’s surprisingly basic and bare-bones in this respect, complete with multiple montages and dialogue that’s simply too on the nose.
The obvious strategy here is to make the whole thing accessible to a wide audience, but I’m not sure what world exists where a film on Karl Marx becomes a huge blockbuster, no matter the political climate. These are lofty ideals to shoot for with a moviegoing climate that’s dominated by CGI meatheads, all of which is commendable. But the payoff is a movie that indulges too often in Hollywood cliches that undercut the high-mindedness that’s the foundation of it all. None of this adds up to a disaster, but it does make for a movie that’s more generic than it has any right to be. Not Rated. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse.