Film Review: ‘The People vs. Fritz Bauer’ is a noteworthy examination of post-Holocaust justice

The_People_Vs._Fritz_Bauer_-_Key_ArtWith the fall festivals fast approaching and awards season beginning to gain momentum, one can always expect certain types of narratives to come to the fore. One of those ubiquitous film subjects is certainly the Holocaust era and its aftermath, seemingly dissected and explored ad nauseum. In one of the latest additions to the canon, Lars Kraume examines one man’s tireless efforts to bring those responsible to justice in The People vs. Fritz Bauer. The top prizewinner at this year’s German Film Awards, this absorbing drama is yet another handsome cinematic depiction of one of the ugliest periods in human history.

At the heart of this true story is the titular Fritz Bauer, a Jewish man who works as an Attorney General in 1957 Germany. Taking up the post following a period of exile during the Nazi era, he dedicates himself to ensuring that the crimes of the past are given a proper court trial. One day, he learns that one of the top figures in the Nazi party – Adolf Eichmann – is hiding out in Buenos Aires, prompting Bauer to embark on a manhunt. But as he begins making moves to bring the former lieutenant colonel to court, he encounters resistance from the German authorities, some of whom have personal ties to Nazism themselves. Undeterred, he becomes obsessed with this unpopular case, which may lead him to resort to treasonous methods in the name of justice.

This rigorous pursuit of justice forms the basis for a fascinating study of a hero ahead of his time. Unfolding during a period when the emotional and psychological wounds of Nazi rule were still raw, Bauer makes for a compelling character as he battles the Establishment as well as the general public who want to put the dark past behind them. Based on a screenplay from Kraume and co-writer Olivier Guez, the film is engaging throughout, addressing the ramifications of extradition from political, legal and sociocultural angles. As unwavering as its central protagonist, the narrative maintains a tight focus, for better or worse.

Indeed, though the jazzy score feels plucked from an episode of Homeland and plot elements include covert operations involving Mossad, the film never breaks out into the globe-trotting thriller it often teases. And though Burghart Klaußner’s gives a commendably unshowy, workmanlike performance, the writing of Bauer remains skin-deep, focusing more on his exploits rather than his inner character. Unlike Carrie Mathieson, his determination is more level-headed, devoid of affections or defining moments.

As such, the conventional procedural approach makes for intriguing but unchallenging viewing. As the plot winds down however, the film finds a saving grace in supporting character Karl Angermann (played by Ronald Zehrfeld), Bauer’s close ally and State Attorney whose personal life adds tension in unexpected ways. But ultimately, it’s the name Fritz Bauer you’ll remember, a classic cinematic hero worthy of praise.

The People vs. Fritz Bauer opens in select theaters August 19, 2016.

GRADE: (★★★)