How do you make a movie about the televised trial of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi commandant responsible for the organisation and logistics of the expulsion, deportation and extermination of Jews whose orders killed millions of people during WWII, without trivializing it too much?
Well, first off, you choose a superb cast. BBC Two’s The Eichmann Show stars Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit) as American TV producer Milton Fruchtman, and Anthony LaPaglia (Without A Trace) as formerly blacklisted director Leo Hurwitz.
In 1961, the real trial had been televised worldwide, and this movie focuses on the two men who managed to convince the Israeli government to let them film and who wanted to show the world why this trial was worth being shown and talked about.
From the start, the film is a behind the scenes look at one of the most important public trials of the last century. It is interlaced with real footage of the trial, which gives it credibility.
Very quickly it becomes obvious that Hurwitz is trying to understand the evil in Adolf Eichmann. Throughout his trial, Eichmann maintains his innocence and doesn’t even flinch at the testimony concentration camp survivors give in court. Hurwitz is trying to spot a tell that Eichmann does feel remorse for his actions, so a lot of the camera work focuses on Eichmann’s eyes and hands.
The film is very tastefully done and the acting is excellent. Martin Freeman, using a very convincing American accent for this role, expertly brings across the kind of pressure Fruchtman was under, the threats the producer and those around him encountered and his ingenious but understated ideas that helped make the filming of the trial possible.
LaPaglia is believable as a Hurwitz who is trying to find that last little piece of humanity left in Eichmann, almost to the point of obsession.
The Eichmann Show is upsetting and distressing at times and the real-life footage as honest as it gets. What happened during the trial is backed up throughout the film with black and white footage from the real court proceedings as well as voice-overlays of the witness testimonies and translations. Real footage of the concentration camp conditions thousands had to endure is also shown, and they all serve as a chilling reminder what men are capable of doing to others.
But the movie also manages to look at Israel and highlight some problems, like the fact that in 1961, this was still a very new country and that not many believed the camp survivors about their ordeal until the footage of Eichmann’s trial became public knowledge.
Some of the most poignant scenes in the movie are the small, intimate ones, though. Like Hurwitz’s landlady, a concentration camp survivor, telling him that people are finally starting to listen and believe her story because of him. The old camera man who breaks down in tears during the testimony of a fellow survivor while Eichmann remains motion and emotionless throughout. And while these scenes may have been added for dramatic effect, they are not as far-fetched as people might think, and in the context of Eichmann’s trial definitely plausible.
Normally, I avoid movies like this. It’s a very delicate and sensitive subject matter, which I feel is very rarely handled with the care and respect it deserves. Too many WWII movies focus on the fighting and “killing some Germans” and as a German, those kind of movies are not my idea of “education” or entertainment.
And while the film is called The Eichmann Show, Eichmann himself only states his name at the very beginning and then only speaks shortly in the real footage. It doesn’t even summarize all Germans as Nazi, as many other movies do. Instead, the more horrifying testimony is given, the more the question gets asked how one man can cause all this evil and suffering and yet sit there so calmly without showing any emotions or remorse.
The Eichmann Show is both, entertaining and educational, chilling and captivating. Entertaining through behind the scenes drama and excellent acting on the part of the two leads, but very educational at the same time and quite possibly even an eye-opener for some people. As uncomfortable as some scenes might be to look at, I highly recommend you watch The Eichmann Show.
I’d give it 5 stars if it weren’t for the fact that the few German names and words were mispronounced. This might not seem a big deal, but to have the actor playing Eichmann mispronounce and say the name “Adolf Eichmann” with an obvious British accent could have been caught in production. Sorry, but as a German, pronunciation of German words and names is something I pay special attention to in cases like this.