Sometimes referred to as “the architect of the Holocaust,” Adolf Eichmann was the embodiment of calculation and efficiency at the expense of any recognizable humanity. Having facilitated the transportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews to the concentration camps in Eastern Europe, Eichmann found himself the “most wanted man in the world” at the end of WWII; he fled, initially hiding in North Germany, and was eventually captured in Argentina and brought to Israel to face charges of war crimes in 1960. A talented, fastidious organizer, Eichmann had managed to obscure most of the trails of communication that directly connected him to the mass murders. Insisting that he was a “cog in a particularly intimidating machine” (perhaps one of the greatest understatements of all time), and therefore technically “blameless,” Eichmann was surprisingly tricky to prosecute.
Eichmann presents this dilemma as a routine legal procedural, a traditional movie showdown between an aging trickster and a young buck with something to prove. (Though ethnically inappropriate, one still half waits for an appearance by Anthony Hopkins.) Thomas Kretschmann fares relatively well as Eichmann, convincingly self-contained and casually ruthless in his entitlement, but Troy Garity is less fortunate as Eichmann’s sparing partner, Avner Less, the Israeli police officer who has to wring a confession out of the prisoner before the press discovers his own conflict of interest. Garity has been charged with an insurmountable number of clichés to enervate (tortured, idealistic, ambitious, etc.), and so your sympathy tends to extend to him over the character he’s actually playing. As Less’s wife, Franka Potente—a warm, occasionally volatile presence in the movies—is wasted in an infuriatingly typical role that amounts to nothing.
Eichmann has two considerable problems, one simple, one just a shade more complicated. Simply, the film is boring. Less asks Eichmann if he directly signed a document that authorized the transportation of Jews to Auschwitz, Eichmann denies it, and we know that that Less knows Eichmann is lying. And we also know that Eichmann knows that Less knows he’s lying. Rinse and repeat with differing Holocaust-related atrocities and you have most of the film, with—let’s face it—a known outcome.
The more complicated issue seems to plague most Holocaust-themed films: an excessive, creatively stifling reverence. Characters aren’t characters in most of these films but sounding boards of fury and righteous indignation. Understandable, to an extent, but the good intentions kill the drama, impeding originality and impact. A number of these films, including Eichmann, amount to little beyond a too-obvious sentiment: that the Holocaust was tragic and morally disgusting, to put it mildly. These sorts of films reduce and condescend to the Jewish people in the opposite direction; as they aren’t allowed flaws, ambiguity, contradiction, mystery. The Jews aren’t allowed to be alive; they must be saintly and distinguished, standing in for every person of their heritage that was tormented or killed in the Holocaust or elsewhere. These canned-history numbers diminish the subject matter, as Eichmann could be just another bland program you flip through on the way to the History Channel as you crack open your third beer. And it’s that kind of apathy that is most dangerous, that nurtures the kind of unquestioned complacence that these films strive to correct.