Judge Michael Nazarewycz can't even find his keys, let alone an international criminal.
His Crimes Shamed a Nation. His Capture Stunned the World.
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to review Hannah Arendt, an excellent film about what the title character—a renowned author and philosopher—thought of the trial of notorious Nazi Adolf Eichmann, and the repercussions of those musings. That film, which is very much worth a look, opens briefly with the capture of Eichmann. This film tells the story that immediately precedes that one: the period of time that Eichmann is found, captured, and held until his trial.
Facts of the Case
Argentina, 1960. An older man and his daughter make their way to an outdoor cafe to meet the daughter's love interest. When her blind father meets her beau's father, the blind man is taken by the smell of his paternal counterpart's cologne. He had only smelled that cologne on one other man—Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal who had escaped the trial at Nuremberg. Eichmann lives in Argentina under the name Ricardo Clement.
Enter the Mossad, Israel's Secret Service, managed by Isser Harel (Jeffrey Tambor, The Hangover). After certain confirmation that the suspect is Eichmann, and after thorough planning, the operation to covertly capture the Nazi, led by Peter Malkin (Arliss Howard, Moneyball), is successfully executed. The Mossad team keeps Eichmann at a secret location until arrangements can be made to transport the criminal to Israel, where he will stand trial. Meanwhile, Eichmann's wife and sons set out to find their missing family patriarch.
It was at some point in the opening minutes of The Man Who Captured Eichmann that I said to myself, "This feels like a made-for-TV movie." From the score to the direction, all the way down to the font of the opening credits, the film just oozed pre-DVR appointment television.
It turns out I was right. This historical drama was made for basic cable's TNT (It might have helped if I had noticed the "TNT Original" logo on the disc.) and originally aired on November 10, 1996. This circumstance, which surely affected creative and budgetary decisions, hinders the first third of the film considerably. This is the portion of the story that covers the assemblage of the team charged with capturing Eichmann, their planning and practicing of the capture, and the execution of the plan. It also establishes some of the ego-borne conflict within the team. It's all terribly trite, with a primetime-drama sense of structure, and execution. Surely when this premiered in 1996, the viewing public had that 1970s feeling all over again.
Fortunately, Robert Duvall (The Godfather) saves the film from becoming a Lifetime movie about two years before the Lifetime Movie Network existed. The role of Adolf Eichmann is not an easy one, as the character is written as self-sympathizing. As Hannah Arendt believed, Eichmann is written here as a man who disassociates himself from the deaths of millions of Jews during World War II. He didn't actually kill them, he merely arranged their transport, and this was nothing more than a job. In the hands of Duvall, the character is almost sympathetic, but not quite, nor should be he. He makes you think, which is precisely what Duvall needs to portray to keep the film interesting.
In extended scenes of conversation with Eichmann is Malkin. Howard does a fine job verbally sparring with Duvall, conveying the right balance of righteousness and ego. There is also a tender scene not involving Eichmann where Malkin emotionally breaks down that is worth seeing.
The rest of the film and the players, though, all emit a faint made-for-TV scent that prevents this from becoming a better film, right down to an ending that feels as contrived as the ending of Argo. Still, The film is not without its industry merits. It was nominated for two Primetime Emmys: Outstanding Editing for a Miniseries or a Special/Single Camera Production (Drake Silliman, Airwolf) and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special (Duvall). It lost both.
This catalog title is presented on an MOD disc from Warner Archive. As such, there are no audio or video bells and whistles here; both are serviceable but unremarkable. This is standard-def fare with the purpose of presenting the film as you may have seen it when it aired on television in 1996.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It is important to note the following, which appears on the Amazon page where this disc is sold:
This product is manufactured on demand using DVD-R recordable media. This product is expected to play back in DVD Video "play only" devices, and may not play in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives.
My experience? The disc plays in my Sony Blu-ray/DVD player, but not on my Apple MacBook Pro. Also, there are no extras on the disc. Even the menu is generic, with a picture of the WB water tower and one option: play.
The Man Who Captured Eichmann is a good companion piece—something of an unintentional prequel, really—to Hannah Arendt. While the overall quality—in both film and presentation—is not as glossy, it still gets the job done in telling the tale, carried by an excellent turn from Robert Duvall. It's also a nice visit to the way we used to watch movies on TV.
This film is not guilty. Eichmann, on the other hand…
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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