The Survivor, a biopic about boxer and Holocaust survivor Harry Haft, was one of the most critically acclaimed movies at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. HBO has acquired North American distribution rights for the film, which stars Ben Foster as Haft and is directed by Barry Levinson.
Based on the book Harry Haft: Survivor of Auschwitz, Challenger of Rocky Marciano (written by Haft’s son, Alan), the film chronicles Haft’s imprisonment at Auschwitz. Not only does he have to endure the horrors of the Nazi concentration camp, but he’s also made to fight fellow prisoners in gladiator-type matches for the amusement of his incarcerators.
Haft eventually escapes Auschwitz and immigrates to New York, where he seeks to reunite with the woman he loves. In the meantime, he uses the boxing skills he learned to try and make a living, which puts him in the ring with fighters such as the legendary Rocky Marciano.
Foster (Leave No Trace) previously starred in another sports biopic, portraying Lance Armstrong in 2016’s The Program. (Please check out our review.) Levinson, who won the 1989 Best Director Academy Award for Rain Man, also has sports cred, helming the 30 For 30 documentary, The Band That Wouldn’t Die, and another HBO sports biopic, 2018’s Paterno.
As mentioned, critics who saw The Survivor at the Toronto Film Festival praised the performance of the cast, which includes Vicky Krieps (Old), Billy Magnussen (Game Night), Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass), Danny DeVito, and John Leguizamo, along with Foster, who lost 60 pounds to play this role. But several reviews felt juggling three timelines during Haft’s life resulted in a disjointed story.
According to Deadline, a team from the USC Shoah Foundation helped BRON Studios and New Mandate Films with the production, providing historical consulting and crucial details, including testimony from Haft that was filmed in 2007 and preserved in the foundation’s Visual History Archive.
“At a time when hatred based on race and belief is escalating, Harry’s story is a reminder of overcoming adversity against all odds,” said producers Matti Leshem and Aaron L. Gilbert in a statement (via Deadline). “We were thrilled to launch the film at TIFF and the subsequent tremendous reception we received. We are delighted that the team at HBO shares our passion and we are looking forward to launching this important story with them.”
HBO’s announcement did not reveal a release date for The Survivor, nor whether the film would get a theatrical release or premiere on the premium cable network and stream on HBO Max. But if HBO has Academy Award ambitions for the movie, it’s possible we could see it before the end of 2021.