Film Review: Eichmann

Sincere, handsomely produced rendition of real-life encounter between notorious Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and his Israeli police captain interrogator amounts to an engaging drama seasoned by a dollop of soft-core titillation. History buffs, especia
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In a canon of many Nazi-themed fiction films ranging from the wildly imagined Inglourious Basterds to the strenuously earnest, fact-based Downfall, British-born director Robert Young’s (not be confused with American-born filmmaker Robert M. Young) Eichmann skews toward the latter.

Based on the actual transcripts of an interrogation between so-called “author of the Holocaust” Eichmann and Avner W. Less, the Israeli police captain charged with interviewing him for a final confession just before his historic 1961 trial in Israel, Eichmann alternates between three story strands: the interview, the outrage that ensued over Eichmann even being given the chance to officially respond to accusations, and the flashbacks exposing his culpability as a key strategist of “the Jewish Question” and enabler of “the Final Solution.” On the R-and-R front, Eichmann also saucily interjects some of the Nazi family man’s unsavory amorous exploits.

But the film’s connective tissue is the battle of wills between the monstrously calm and cool Eichmann (an excellent Thomas Kretschmann) and the low-key Captain Avner Less (Troy Garity, who nicely handles a credible German-Israeli accent). Less is under pressure from Israeli Minister Tormer (the always wonderfully boisterous author/actor Stephen Fry) to exact a confession and endures growing censure from the public and even his own wife Vera (Franka Potente) for allowing the much-hated Eichmann a voice. It is the demanding Tormer who reminds Less that the prisoner is “the greatest living threat ever to the Jewish people.”

Eichmann, asked by Less to give his version of his role in the Third Reich, emerges as a stubbornly guilt-free manipulator, a self-assured mega-malefactor still lolling in a warm, protective coat of narcissism and self-denial. Ever blind to his evil acts, he’s sure there’s no real evidence against him.

But as Less extracts some truths, Eichmann emerges as an integral administrator in the Nazi apparatus to destroy European Jewry and as a husband and father drawn to tawdry affairs with a variety of women. He didn’t just follow orders but slavishly followed other baser instincts. Professionally and personally, he was a grabby kind of guy, a canny, driven opportunist.

There are also details of his various exploits, including Eichmann’s dealings with the controversial Hungarian Rudolf Kastner, a Jewish leader who helped save Jews but was later maligned for collaborating with the Nazis.

Some aspects of the story are unclear. For instance, is the effort to get a confession from Eichmann meant to avert the trial that will follow? And why was Less, a former hairdresser, selected for so important a task? How did what emerged from this interrogation impact the trial itself? Is the connection between Less’ family and Eichmann a real or invented one? And did Eichmann, known for his familiarity with Hebrew, actually speak English, as depicted here?

Ellipses aside, the film is eminently watchable, due largely to the fine performances from Kretschmann and Garity. Kretschmann, with roles in such films as The Pianist, Downfall and Valkyrie, has almost made a career playing Nazi-era military cogs. With his character’s geeky glasses, receding hairline and overall “banal” looks, he even resembles Eichmann. And Garity, the son of Jane Fonda and star of Soldier's Girl and the little-seen, underappreciated indie Lake City, here further convinces of his versatility, although his Less is calculatingly one-note but perfectly coiled and determined.

Eichmann has an astounding number of exec producer credits, no doubt also the result of the film’s many funders and the varied Malta and Hungarian locations, also substituting for places as far afield as Israel and Buenos Aires and effectively dressed for a wide variety of settings and time periods. Contributing to the film’s authenticity is the voice-over at the end of the real Avner W. Less, lifted from a 1983 interview.

That Regent is releasing the film under the banner of the longtime gay publication The Advocate is surely in the interest of brand-boosting, as there’s nothing gay—in either sense of the word—about Eichmann, the man or the movie.