TV Review: Are We Men or Monsters?

review

The Eichmann Show, written by Simon Block, directed by Paul Andrew Williams. Copyright 2015. Available on the BBC iPlayer until February 17, 2015 (for UK residents only).

1961 seems so far away, but is it as far away as it seems? It was a tumultuous time: JFK had taken office in January, the space race was heating up, and Vietnam was escalating rapidly. In the middle of all this, the capture of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, would end up having a massive effect on the world.

Eichmann’s trial, held in Jerusalem, was going to have massive media coverage. Producer Milton Fruchtman (Martin Freeman) pitches the idea of filming the trial for television in order to get the broadcast out. The Eichmann Show is a behind-the-scenes story of how this ended up happening.

Starting right off the bat with a scene of Fruchtman rehearsing said pitch for why it should be filmed, we jump straight into the story. We are quickly given the information of Fruchtman hiring blacklisted TV director Leo Hurwizt (Anthony LaPaglia) and dealing with issues we take for granted today of how to actually film the trial without the bulky cameras and wires being a distraction. And in fact, if you are a film geek of any sort, the first half of the film is fascinating to watch as you realize how difficult an undertaking something like this was back before we had wireless options or light equipment.

Martin Freeman and Anthony LaPaglia. Photo courtesy BBC Two.

It’s a compelling look at what has become known as the world’s first global television documentary, as we see Fructman dealing with death threats for just filming it to the security surrounding not just Eichmann but the entirety of the trial. Interspersed with the BBC’s interpretation are scenes from the actual trial and news footage from that era (including footage from the camps themselves), adding a sense of reality and believably to this docudrama.

And while yes, I’ll admit my ongoing fascination with Martin Freeman was part of the reason I watched this (and while yes, he does give yet another outstanding yet understated performance), it’s actually LaPaglia who steals the show. Hurwitz becomes obsessed with Eichmann during the filming, wanting the Nazi to crack and show he is human in an attempt to show the world that the atrocities he committed could feasibly be done by any one of us if given the right (or wrong, as the case may be) set of circumstances. He doesn’t believe in monsters, he says at one point, but he does believe men can do monstrous things. LaPaglia plays the obsession with finesse, giving an excellent performance of someone who knows he’s too close to the subject but also isn’t quite sure how to distance himself.

With the news of what’s been going on in the world, from Ferguson to the Charlie Hebdo attacks to ISIS, The Eichmann Show is a harsh reminder that we are all capable of horrible acts, and that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. When it comes down to it, are we really that far from 1961? Or have we just traded up the heavy cameras and the need to hide them in the walls so they don’t disturb the judges for iPhones and wifi instant communication?

There is only one thing to be sure of. Whether it’s people finally believing what happened in the concentration camps because they were finally able to see and hear witness testimonies or people getting a more complete picture of a news story thanks to Twitter and smartphones, it’s the ability to connect with others that help us from becoming too much of a monster. The Eichmann Show was just the beginning.