Judgement in Berlin, about an atypical defection that occurred in West Berlin in the late 1970s, is a quality production made on a tight budget but with obvious care and commitment, avoiding didacticism.
An East German couple traveling with a child hijacked a Polish airliner headed for East Berlin, forcing the pilot to land at a West Berlin airport that serves as a US military installation. The big question is who has legal jurisdiction to prosecute the hijackers. It is decided that since they landed in US-occupied territory, a trial conducted by a US judge is the humane solution.
Though the film’s action essentially evolves around a courtroom drama, we also get glimpses of the personal lives of the principal characters, including the trial judge (Martin Sheen), and the couple accused of the hijacking, effectively played by Heinz Honig and Jutta Speidel.
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There is good work by all concerned, including Leo Penn’s deft, understated direction and the serviceable screenplay, adapted from an actual account written by the story’s real trial judge Herbert J. Stern.
Sean Penn (Leo’s son) has a plum role as an airline passenger who decided to defect when the opportunity presented itself. His trial testimony provides the film’s dramatic center