‘Eichmann,” a drama about the interrogation of the Nazi war criminal by an officer of the Israeli police after his capture in 1960, has been sitting on the shelf since 2007. Once you have seen the film it is not hard to understand why. What is harder to understand is why someone has actually chosen to release it.
Directed by British television veteran Robert Young (not to be confused with American indie director Robert M. Young, whose films include the Holocaust drama “Triumph of the Spirit”), “Eichmann” is a sepia-toned melodrama whose screenplay by Snoo Wilson bears only the slightest resemblance to the reality of Eichmann’s pre-trial interrogation by Avner Less, a police captain whose father died in Auschwitz.
In order to get a hundred minutes of drama out of this story, Wilson and Young keep shifting the focus of the film, manufacturing suspense out of such uninspiring side issues as Eichmann’s alleged sexual affairs, including several supposedly Jewish mistresses, death threats against Less by outraged survivors and leaks to the press within Israeli security, culminating in a threat by an American reporter to expose Less’s family history and discredit his work. And underlying this diffuse series of sideshows is a supposed race against time to elicit a confession from the prisoner.
In short, rather than make a film with its basis in the actual transcripts of the interrogation, which have been published in edited form as “Eichmann Interrogated,” which is still in print, the filmmakers have tried to create suspense where none is necessary. For some reason, they feel the need to “dispel the myth of the ‘banality of evil’” as the press notes proclaim, by making Eichmann an all-purpose monster who appears to have engineered every atrocity committed by the Nazis, a sinister, cynical and silver-tongued demon out of a Fritz Lang film.
Reading the transcripts reveals him to be anything but. The Eichmann who emerges from the transcribed interrogations is punctilious, organized and bland. He really was a bureaucrat, a company man whose industrial product was dead Jews.
In Young and Wilson’s hands, this story becomes a lengthy, dull, handsomely mounted but utterly empty reworking of an episode of “The Closer.”
Thomas Kretschmann plays the title character as a satanic figure hiding behind a bland exterior. It’s an overly arch performance without much of a center, in part because Wilson’s script keeps shifting the ground under the actor’s feet, giving him earnest letters home to his four sons that make no emotional sense in the larger context of his character, especially when we have seen him shooting a baby and making love to a demented baroness for whom the recitation of statistics about dead Jews is a form of foreplay.
By contrast, Less (Troy Garity) is a bit more than a foil for his opposite number, but he is never shown as the highly competent police interrogator that he actually was. In their understandable eagerness to get to the contradictory impulses that must have motivated him, Young and Wilson have inadvertently turned Eichmann into a bit of a ditherer, his worries about his family interfering with his duty.
All of this is regrettable when not downright repellent. A fascinating film could be made from nothing more complicated than the two men (and an omnipresent guard) sitting in a room playing the actual text of the interrogations. What is truly frightening about Eichmann is his dispassionate explanations of what he did, not some theatrical monstrousness. The complexity and nuance of his words is utterly elided in this melodramatic medley, and the historical importance of the Eichmann trial is reduced to drivel.
“Eichmann,” directed by Robert Young, opens Friday, Nov. 12 at the Quad Cinema (34 W. 13th St.). For information call (212) 255- 2243 or go to www.quadcinema.com.