Thursday, March 22, 2012

Meet and Greet: "Conspiracy" (2001)

Fifteen men meet for a boring sounding meeting now dubbed the "Wannsee Conference." They smoke, eat, argue, and eventually agree (or are forced to agree). The direct result of this meeting is the annihilation of six million men, women, and children.

As the German army was stalled in their bid to reach Moscow, the Jewish problem was getting out of hand and draining Nazi resources. Adolf Hitler orders a group of men to meet in private to discus the final solution to the Jewish problem, and this film, based on the only surviving transcript of the meeting, shows agreement was not unanimous.

Kenneth Branagh plays General Heydrich, the military architect of the plan, with the loyal Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci) at his side. They are criticized and questioned by Stuckart (Colin Firth) and Kritzinger (David Threlfall), who worry about the lawfulness of an action such as "evacuating" eleven million Jews. The original meeting was only two hours, the film runs ninety five minutes, but the viewer will be chilled for days after watching this.

Frank Pierson smartly keeps the entire film in just a couple of rooms and some brief outdoor shots. Claustrophobia immediately sets in, much like "12 Angry Men." The entire cast is brilliant, with Branagh scoring extra points for playing evil so charismatically, and Tucci, who plays Eichmann as a humorless efficient just following orders. Loring Mandel's screenplay shows the division right away between the military and the politicians, with the military basically taking control of the final solution.

The creepiest aspect of the film are scenes involving the specifics of what makes a person a Jew (in Nazi eyes), and the vast numbers of people they planned to murder in order to rid the continent of Jews, eleven and a half million in one year, as soon as the camps were built. The meeting was called under the guise of finding a way to rid the continent of the Jewish race, but many of the military men involved already had their marching orders about what they were to do and how to do it. Tucci quoting the figures concerning the thousands of Polish mental deficients already gassed with carbon monoxide is scary enough, but when the men joke about the color of the bodies, it was very difficult.

"Conspiracy" is another fine entry in the World War II genre of film. Every aspect works, you may find yourself in utter disbelief, as I was, when you see how many of the participants survived the war and returned to civilian life, living decades after the meeting's subjects. Another HBO film that truly disturbs. (* * * * *) out of five stars.