Robert Young's Eichmann feels the burden of history so heavily that it's effectively smothered by it. The movie is based on the true story of Avner Less, the young Israeli police captain assigned to interrogate Adolf Eichmann after he was captured in Argentina fifteen years after the end of World War II. Eichmann was cold, serious and tough to crack, which are great attributes for a Nazi but not necessarily great for a movie about a Nazi. Thomas Kretschmann is Eichmann, in a fine performance coated with smug superiority. Aside from Kretschmann, everything else falls short. As Less, Troy Garity was probably not up to the challenge anyway, so it's no surprise he can't make it past the character's troubled, stone-faced nobility. Writer Snoo Wilson's script is based on transcripts from Less and Eichmann's pre-trial interrogation sessions, yet there's no electricity in these scenes and the side trips to Avner's home are perfunctory. Without marketable talent and with word of mouth destined to be lukewarm, Regent won't see much return on investment.
Nicknamed the Architect of the Holocaust, Adolf Eichmann has been a character in many films, so focusing on his pre-trial interrogator is promising. This unique point of entry potentially branches off into so many emotional and thematic avenues that failing to develop any of them is a letdown. Eichmann avoided the Nuremberg trials, so Jewish opinion (broadly represented by Avner's friends) was to hang him immediately upon arrest. Avner believes in the justice that is Eichmann's due, but he's putting his medically frail wife, Vera (miscast Franka Potente), under terrible strain. If Less faults himself for what she endures, we feel it at a movie of the week level, which is what happens when you hire a TV director. For someone who suffers so much, Vera is still a wasted character. For secrecy's sake, Avner doesn't tell her about his infamous prisoner until well into the interrogation, which is all the more dreadful because her own mother was sent to the gas chamber by the stroke of Eichmann's pen. Neighbors torment her by painting a swastika on her front door. How she explains that to her children we don't know because Young doesn't choose to show it. So much dramatic fodder goes unexplored here, and the only way for the actors to breathe life into bullet points is to go big, which risks melodrama. One can more easily diagnose the problem by remembering that Young is not only a TV director, he was born in 1933. He lived through the events being dramatized. Now, towards the end of his long career, he's less interested in exploring Eichmann through the tortured prism of Avner and his family. His concern is with creating an historical document that won't condescend to using plebian cinema tools like tension and build, lest it becomes A Few Good Men.
The meat of the story, then, is Eichmann's interrogation room showdowns with Avner. In the annals of the cinematic mano-a-mano, though, (Frost versus Nixon, Hannibal Lecter versus Clarice Starling, Rocky Balboa versus Ivan Drago) this one barely hears the opening bell. When Less first meets Eichmann he looks overmatched. Eichmann knows most of the evidence against him has been destroyed, making his icy declaration that he was "a humble cog in what was, admittedly, a highly intimidating machine" hard to disprove. The pressure to nail Eichmann only increases when Avner learns he was responsible for sending his father to Dachau. That's a conflict of interest and Avner's superiors (led by Stephen Fry) demand he get a confession before the press finds out. He'll get it, obviously, and the movie pays a price for it. Young fails to see the difference between the audience wanting Eichmann to confess and wanting Avner to make him confess. Because in films about Nazis, the villain is clear from the beginning, especially when that villain is an historical figure. In case we need more convincing, however, there's a flashback showing Eichmann shooting a baby. If that's not sufficient, there's another flashback of a naked baroness getting sexually excited by hearing Eichmann reel off the number of Jews he's murdered.
Eichmann wants to be about the Jewish police officer forced to interrogate an unrepentant monster and, through that process, confront the heartbreak of the Holocaust. Instead, we're given a film beholden to a leaden sense of historical responsibility, not a liberating sense of emotional release.
Distributor: Regent Releasing
Cast: Thomas Kretschmann, Troy Garity, Franka Potente and Stephen Fry
Director: Robert Young
Screenplay: Snoo Wilson
Producer: Karl Richards
Genre: Historical drama
Running time: 96 min
Release date: October 29 NY, November 12 LA