The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Hannah Arendt | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Hannah Arendt

Biopic of the controversial political theorist.

Directed by: Margarethe von Trotta
Starring: Barbara Sukowa, Axel Milberg, Janet McTeer

In 1961, fugitive Nazi Adolf Eichmann is captured by Mossad agents and brought to stand trial in Israel for his part in the extermination of Jews. Living in New York, having fled Germany during the war, Jewish-German political writer Hannah Arendt (Sukowa) is commissioned by The New Yorker magazine to cover the trial. Far from the outright condemnation of a Nazi expected of a Jewish writer, particularly one with such a personal history, Arendt instead wrote a serialized piece focusing on what she termed "the banality of evil", arguing that Eichmann wasn't himself evil, rather his mediocrity as a man led him to follow orders without question.
Other than illustrating her fondness for nicotine (Arendt is pictured constantly puffing on cigarettes while gazing into middle distance, the only way the director can illustrate her thought process), von Trotta's film tells us little about Arendt. In fairness to the film-maker, how could it? There's really no cinematic way to tackle the issue of someone known for their thoughts rather than their actions. While you may find Arendt's essays fascinating, once you remove the woman's work, you're left with a life that's, well, banal.
von Trotta may have made a movie about an intellectual but she seems intent on reaching a mass audience by dumbing down the story. The result is a movie populated by intellectual thinkers who ask incredibly stupid questions, presumably for the sake of the audience, which brings up the question of who exactly von Trotta thinks her audience is? How many viewers who aren't familiar with Arendt does she honestly think are going to watch her film?
There's a distinct blandness to the movie that recalls the sort of dull biopics that were once the stock in trade of HBO before the channel entered the world of serialized drama. The period recreation appears to have been inspired by viewings of 'Mad Men' and the supporting cast delivers an array of unconvincing New York accents.
The biggest crime, however, is that, despite two hours of dialogue and a Streep-worthy performance from Sukowa, the film never really gets across the point Arendt was making: that creating a show trial focused on one man essentially allows an entire generation of anti-semite Europeans off the hook. Anyone unfamiliar with Arendt's theories will likely be as unconvinced by this film as those reactionary New Yorker readers were in 1961.

Eric Hillis