Film Review: THE RESISTANCE BANKER (Bankier van het Verzet) (Netherlands/Belgium 2018) ***1/2

The Resistance Banker Poster

In Nazi-occupied Amsterdam, banker brothers Walraven and Gijs van Hall face their greatest challenge yet when they decide to help fund the Dutch resistance.


Joram Lürsen

THE RESISTANCE BANKER is a Netflix original film and perhaps the first one from the Netherlands.

THE RESISTANCE BANKER is World War II banker Walraven van Hall, the hero who financed the Dutch Resistance against the German war machine.  Not many outside the Netherlands might have heard of him.  Therefore it is a story that needs be told, which translates into a film that needs to be seen.  It is of no surprise that the country has proudly submitted the film for the 91st Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Film Oscar.  Unfortunately, the film did not make the December Best Foreign Film Nominee short list.  But the film did become the most visited Dutch film of 2018 and was nominated for eleven Golden Calves, the first time a film received so many nominations for the award.  It went on to win four Golden Calves, among them the prize for Best Film and Best Actor.

THE RESISTANCE BANKER is the true story of the Dutch banker Walraven van Hall (Barry Atsma), a man who, witnessing the holocaust together with the Nazi occupation of his homeland, decided to finance the Dutch resistance with the creation of a shadow bank.  Walraven van Hall used the guise of a charitable fund to help Dutch sailors stranded abroad by the war to launder money into his shadow bank.  As the war continued, the needs of the resistance increased. Nazi leaders grew closer to catching van Hall.  At great risk, Van Hall decided to forge war bonds, secretly exchanging them for the real bonds at a major bank, and then redeeming them for cash at this same bank.

The film is not a bad one, being full of good intentions,  But it is not perfect with a lot of choppy parts.  For example, characters appear from nowhere like the girl on a bicycle carrying anti-German papers, then later explained in the story who she is.  Incidents are also inserted into the story before some crisis following it occurs.  A torture scene (and quite a nasty one at that) appears out of nowhere and a following scene shows van Hall sitting in a train that has German around checking for suspicious characters.

The film does play it safe in its storytelling.  The first third, which is quite slow moving, establishes the characters of van Hall.  He is shown to be a man who loves his wife, who sticks to his beliefs despite the danger he puts himself into.  He loves his children, even sacrificing his life for doing what is right.

The film spends quite a bit of time going through the mechanics of forging the Treasury Bills. Though some might find these sequences boring, they are necessary to show the difficulty of forging especially during war times when materials like ink and special paper are almost impossible to obtain.  At its best, the film contains a few genuinely suspenseful moments, though the one played at the bank is cliched-ridden.

THE RESISTANCE BANKER is currently playing on Netflix.  It is the story of a different kind of hero, but one outstanding one who knows sacrifice of family and love ones is necessary to do what is right.