The great myth of war is that it all ends when one side gives up. In reality, it’s never that clean. What do you do with all the people who fought against you for a start? This problem is exacerbated when many were involved in the atrocities that became bread and butter for the Nazi party in Hitler’s Germany. The People vs. Fritz Bauer haphazardly focuses on a State District Attorney’s dogged pursuit of justice in a country keen to forget past sins. While the (true) story is an interesting one, Lars Kraume’s film feels like a TV serial cut down into a disjointed feature.
Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaußner) is the District Attorney in question, a controversial figure in post-war West Germany. In office in the province of Hessen, he dedicated his stretched resources to hunting down leading Nazis, particularly Adolf Eichmann who played a pivotal role in the Final Solution. After locating his man, he was forced to turn traitor and approach the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for fear that the remaining Nazis in hiding within state machinery would see to it that Eichmann disappeared again. It was only sometime after his death that his role in Eichmann’s capture became public.
Straightforward as it sounds, a lack of focus prevents this interesting slice of history from developing into an equally interesting film. Kraume and co-writer Olivier Guez can’t decide if it’s a tense account of Eichmann’s downfall driving the narrative, or a meditative reflection on the renewed hope that allowed a flagging Bauer to regroup and continue his campaign.The Eichmann strand is more engaging, mostly because it’s pared down to play like a standard thriller. There are still fantastical leaps of deductive reasoning, particularly the way in which they find Eichmann’s Argentinian employer, but the murky world of espionage allows for tension as Bauer works with the only man he trusts – Ronald Zehrfeld’s junior Attorney Karl Angermann – to chase down sources before prompting Israel into action.
A separate sub-plot with Angermann, one that sees their shared homosexuality bond them together, is a patchy affair. Angermann’s trips to an illicit club are so laden with impending doom that it saps away the impact when the fall comes. As well are drawing energy from the Eichmann plotline, it also provides plenty of opportunity for hammy dialogue. The People vs. Fritz Bauer is the kind of film that offers a big speech on standing up to tyranny, allowing only a few minutes to pass before someone has to stand up to tyranny. It’s tedious and predictable, and sadly in keeping with everything else on offer.
Some stories demand to be told. Truth is often said to be stranger than fiction after all. Here it’s an awful lot more interesting as well.