Nuremberg (2001)


Our Rating: 4 out of 5

Reviewer: Charity Bishop


It is almost difficult to categorize one's feelings after this film, because it is so profound in its subtle nuances that the audience feels both tremendous loss for all that transpired during the Nazi regime, and accomplishment and pride that those responsible for the horrific war crimes were justly prosecuted and executed.


With the world still reeling from the aftermath of Hitler's deranged, bloody attempts to take over Europe and govern from a central superpower, it becomes a matter of global importance to prosecute and punish those within custody, former members of the Third Reich and Hitler's closest allies and confidantes. The most esteemed member of the prisoners of war is Reichsmarschall Hermann Wilhelm Göring (Brian Cox), the charming but cold-blooded right hand of Hitler's propaganda-spewing panel of associates. He and twenty others are to be brought before the tribunal, formed of the four governing countries that stood against Hitler -- America, Britain, France, and Russia -- to account for the mass slaughter of Jews in the concentration camps, and general crimes against humanity. The first trial of its kind, the entire future of war prosecution rests on the success of the lead prosecutor to get a series of convictions, and send the message to the waiting world that war crimes are still crimes, and must be vindicated.


President Truman feels the best man for the job is Justice Robert Jackson (Alec Baldwin) of the Supreme Court. Supported by British Prosecutor Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe (Christopher Plummer) and well-assisted by his chief secretary Elsie Douglas (Jill Hennessey), Jackson intends to make an example of the twenty-one stone-faced defendants. But he is unprepared for Göring's defiance in the courtroom, and his enigmatic portrayal of a man entirely innocent of the charges brought against him have won more than one secret admirer. Among them is Göring's assigned jailer, Lt. Tex Wheelis (Scott Gibson), whom we see slipping further and further beneath his elite prisoner's anti-Semitic stance. Assigned to the cell block is Jewish psychologist Capt. Gustav Gilbert (Matt Craven), who is attempting to discern the nature of evil and grant insights to the prosecution as to the emotional state of their defendants.


What the film is comprised of is a significantly complex sequence of events that follows the trial from its conception through to its convictions and subsequent executions. Everything about the production is impressive. Not only does it read like a list of "America and Europe's best underappreciated actors" (Baldwin, Plummer, Michael Ironside), but the writing behind it is absolutely phenomenal. Its honest exploration of evil, the concept that formed Göring as an alternating empathetic and horrific defendant, both magnetic and repulsive, the means with which it toys with your emotions, are all very well carried out with absolutely beautiful performances. The dramatic contrast between Göring and Jackson is evident in the footage shared between them, of the shrewd and calculating glances, in how successfully they unnerve one another. One of the most profound ponderings the film offers is Amen's ultimate conclusion that the only thing the defendants have in common is a "lack of empathy," and therefore "Evil is the absence of empathy."


Those of intellectual depth enough to be fascinated by the film should be forewarned that it is historically authentic and therefore the audience shares in the horror of those present in being shown the true facts of what transpired in the concentration camps. Historical accounts from survivors and observers are read and acted out, depicting the mass genocide of millions of Jewish people. They are described multiple times as being stripped naked and herded into mass graves, where they are slaughtered, gassed in chambers, or thrust into freezing water in "experiments." A significant scene shows real-life footage from the death camps -- emancipated, naked bodies barely recognizable because of their starving condition are thrown into pits, bulldozed, and heaped in piles. You cannot watch it without being aghast at the nature of evil, and the absolute cruelty of mankind. It leaves the courtroom audience in a state of tearful silence.


We witness the execution of those sentenced to death by hanging. One defendant consumes cyanide and dies; another hangs himself in his cell. A heart attack is nearly prompted due to a physical fight between a guard and a prisoner. There is also the beginnings of an affair between Jackson and Elsie; despite him having a wife at home, the two are shown kissing on several occasions. It's not indicated whether it went any further, and the concluding implication is that he might divorce his wife. There is some language, comprised of profanities and one or two mild abuses of deity. I really enjoyed the film because not only was it a fascinating glimpse into a time in history the world would do well never to forget, it was also a classy and heartfelt glimpse into one of the most successful trials of all time.