Lionel Chetwynd, who also wrote the screenplay for TNT’s “Kissinger and Nixon ,” is expert at capturing relationships between historical figures. In this TNT original, scenes between Robert Duvall’s Adolf Eichmann and Arliss Howard’s Peter Malkin, the Mossad agent responsible for kidnapping the Nazi in 1960, are engrossing.
Filmed in Argentina by Butchers Run Films and the Stan Margulies Co. Executive producers, Robert Duvall, Stan Margulies; producer, Raul Outeda; co-producer, Rob Carliner; director, William A. Graham; writer, Lionel Chetwynd; based on the book “Eichmann in My Hands” by Peter Z. Malkin and Harry Stein; Under the direction of William Graham, the balance of the picture is a competent thriller based on Malkin’s book about the events. But the perceptive interaction between the two leads is in a different league.
Holding Eichmann in a Buenos Aires safe house before a trial (and death by hanging) in Israel, Malkin can’t resist asking how the Holocaust could happen. His search for some understanding, with his deceased sister and her children in mind, is met with the rationalizations of a meticulous, obsessive bureaucrat.
Bonding with his captor, Eichmann fondly recounts his career, eventually revealing his absolute devotion to Hitler and the laws of the Reich. Duvall almost gets you to believe Eichmann had a clerical role in the Final Solution instead of being one of its chief architects. Familiar excuses about carrying out orders and doing one’s duty are raised to an absurd level by the 55 -year-old. Malkin is dumbfounded by this defense and the refusal to assume any moral responsibility.
Picture begins with a sequence in which cattle are loaded onto railway cars, mirroring the method used to transport those destined for concentration camps. The point is extended with Eichmann teaching his young son how to count using the railway cars that pass in front of their home in a poor section of Buenos Aires.
After getting a tip from a blind Holocaust survivor, the Mossad swings into action, assembling a team headed by the security minister (Jeffrey Tambor), confirming Eichmann’s identity and developing a plan to snatch him off the street.
They finally whisk him onto an El Al diplomatic flight disguised as a steward , with Eichmann’s sons and Nazis from the Argentine community in pursuit. The film’s real climax comes earlier when Malkin, cleverly having convinced Eichmann to put his fate in Israel’s hands, recalls his nephew. Eichmann responds matter-of-factly,”He was Jewish, wasn’t he?”
The emotional logic at the core of Chetwynd’s script is presented with subtlety. He doesn’t go in for big scenes or outpourings; small talk is illuminating. The dialogue is enforced by a subtext that both actors convey in polished, physically expressive performances. Duvall incorporates the “banality of evil” as a frumpy burgher enamored of order and his own administrative prowess. In presenting a full characterization, down to Malkin’s talent for sketching and painting, the wiry Howard is suitably arrogant and intense. He’s an ideal surrogate for humanity.
Crisp editing by Drake Silliman and photography by Robert Steadman help the production, filmed on location in Buenos Aires. The locale is irrelevant, however. The real drama takes place in a small, bare room and in the minds of two men doing a dance yet destined to remain far apart.
TNT is airing a companion documentary, “Nazi Hunters: Stalking Evil.”