Eichmann (2007)

I was looking forward to watch the British Hungarian co-production Eichmann starring one of my favourite German actors Thomas Kretschmann. If I tell you it was entertaining this should ring a bell right away. A movie based on Adolf Eichmann’s interrogation should not be entertaining. No, it really shouldn’t. If it is, something went wrong. And that’s what happened. I should have known this wouldn’t be a good movie because most reviews are far from appreciative but I was curious and wanted to find out for myself.

The core question, which isn’t really explored as well as I would have wished, is whether someone who follows an order and gives orders, like Eichmann did, is as guilty as those who executed the orders or those who decided they should be given. It’s the same question that lies at the heart of plays like Macbeth. Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth to kill, does that make her less guilty than her husband who did the killing?

Eichmann was one of the highest Nazi functionaries. He had the position of Transportation Administrator of the so-called Final Solution. In this function he was in charge of all the trains that  brought Jews to the death camps in occupied Poland. It is said that he is responsible for the execution of 6.000.000 people. After the war he could escape to Argentina. He was one of a few Nazi criminals not to be sentenced at the Nuremberg Trials because he was in hiding. The State of Israel was established in 1948. Its official intelligence agency, Mossad, was formed one year later. One of Mossad’s principal assigned tasks was to hunt down accused Nazi war criminals. Eichmann was captured in Argentina in 1960 and brought to trial in Jerusalem in 1961. He was executed in 1962.

The movie however isn’t very explicit on all of this but focusses purely on the interrogation. Avner Less, a young Israeli police officer whose father had been on one of the trains sent to Auschwitz by Adolf Eichmann, was the one who interrogated Eichmann. The movie is told from Avner’s point of view. It shows the problems this interrogation brings to his family and to himself, the reaction of the public, how the media hunt him.

The interrogation as such had the aim to make Eichmann confess. Most of the interrogation we see consists of Avner asking and Eichmann denying. Whenever Eichmann lies, the movie shows what really happened in a flashback and that’s where the movie gets entertaining but absurd as we see Eichmann depicted like a gigolo with various lovers. Really weird.

On the other hand, while showing a shallow and silly Eichmann in the flashbacks, the way the people in Israel talk about him in the movie makes it sound as if they thought he was the sole responsible for the murders of so many people. Both are gross exaggerations and make this a really dubious movie.

I don’t understand why this incredible story could not have been done any better. It certainly would have deserved to be told well.

I have bought Hannah Arendt’s book on the Eichmann trial Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil a while back. I would have done better reading that instead.

One word about the actor. Many reviewers criticized Kretschmann for his wooden acting. I saw documentaries of the trial and think the man Eichmann was very wooden. In any case, it’s not the actor’s fault this isn’t a good movie. I’d say he was actually quite good.

Still, a movie like Eichmann has some value as it may generate an interest in people to find out more about this sinister character and it may trigger conversations about guilt and responsibility. But it’s not a good movie.

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11 thoughts on “Eichmann (2007)

  1. the war movie buff says:

    Have you seen “The Man Who Captured Eichmann” starring Robert Duvall? It looks pretty good and I would guess is better acted. Whoever Kretschmann is, he ain’t no Duvall.

    • You can’t say that. You should know Kretschman! He is an international star, not just a German one. He is in every German WWII movie and in every American WWII movie in which a German is depicted, be it Valkyrie, The Downfall or Stalingrad, The Pianist… He was also in King Kong, Resident Evil and loads of other international productions.
      He is a very good and very famous actor.

  2. Guy Savage says:

    I went to look at this after reading the review and it gets two stars on netflix.

  3. nem baj says:

    As a few scenes were shot close to home I’d be happy to say that at least they tried – but then this movie fails on so many levels. It doesn’t have a clear angle, fails to build a dramatic tension beetween the two men, then cannot choose which character to focus on, and constantly gets lost in senseless sub-stories…

    Certainly, Eichmann is not easy material for fiction, especially when focusing on either the transcripts of his interrogations or on the trial itself. His line of defence was made of denial, refusal to answer questions about consciousness, a constant switching beetween extreme accuracy about irrelevant details and amnesia about incriminating ones, etc.

    This armour-plated wall of bad faith and bureaucracy tactics is quite boring at first sight (or reading)… unless you make it the subject. That’s what Hannah Arendt did in her articles and book.

    That’s also what Eyal Sivan & Rony Brauman did in their very impressive – and quite scary, I my opinion – documentary, entirely based on footage of the trial: The Specialist (Eichmann, un spécialiste, portrait d’un criminel moderne, 1999).

    Why spend so much time and energy on historical recreation, when clever editing and scriptwriting are the basics of cinema ?

    • I agree, Eichmann isn’t an easy topic to choose but I think of all the possible angles, they picked the wrong one. If they had called the movie Avner Less it would have made more sense. It would still not have been a very good movie but at least our expectations wouldn’t have been so mislead. Seeing that it was a British-Hungarian co-production I actually thought it could be good.
      I still thin one could make a terrific movie but it would have to be much more sophisticated, more intellectula. Maybe a movie outting hannah Arendt center-stage would have had much more interest.
      I’d like to see the documentary you mention.

  4. Guy Savage says:

    Caroline: I came across a book called SCREEN NAZIS by Sabine Hake that I thought you might find interesting

  5. […] suppose it wasn’t in Eichmann‘s favour that I re-watched Valkyrie just before I saw Eichmann. I would say I liked Valkyrie […]

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