Martijn Lakemeier plays Michiel in 'Winter in Wartime,' a film… (Sony Pictures Classics )
Straightforward and solid but only mildly involving, "Winter in Wartime" is the coming-of-age story of a Dutch teen boy, set during the final months of World War II. Director Martin Koolhoven elicits strong performances in the handsomely photographed feature but fails to sustain tension, creating a work that's smooth and reassuring, never truly gripping.
Based on a 1972 children's novel by Jan Terlouw, the film avoids troubling ambiguities, resolving each challenge or conflict almost as soon as it arises. As the 13-year-old mayor's son Michiel, newcomer Martijn Lakemeier delivers a sensitive, understated portrayal.
Michiel regards his father's conciliatory stance toward the Nazis with shame and admires the mysterious Resistance exploits of his brash uncle (Yorick van Wageningen). Through wartime happenstance, he becomes involved in an underground mission of his own, aiding an injured soldier of the Royal Air Force (Jamie Campbell Bower) in his attempt to escape occupied territory. That the British pilot looks barely older than Michiel is one of the film's quietly poignant observations.
If its third-act revelations feel like mere plot mechanics, "Winter in Wartime" rings true in its depiction of boys forced to leave childhood behind — though Koolhoven undercuts the drama of a key sequence with showy slo-mo and intensified use of the lush score. For the most part, his restraint and unfussy approach are commendable, even if the story's complications are fleeting.
"Winter in Wartime." MPAA rating: R for some language. Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes. Playing at Laemmle's Royal, West Los Angeles.