The Film (4.5/5)
Attorney General Fritz Bauer (Burghart Klaubner), is a tired Jewish, and closeted gay man who has about had it with the politics of his job. It’s 1957 in Germany, and the hunt is still on for former Nazis who have yet been imprisoned for their war crimes. Bauer’s newest case is on the missing SS lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann (Michael Schenk), who was responsible for the mass deportation of Jews during World War 2. Bauer is starting to face the case out of revenge and personal pride. He also realizes that some of the higher ups are ex Nazis themselves. With the aid of a young state attorney Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld), Fritz will stop at nothing to bring Eichmann to justice.
THE PEOPLE VS FRITZ BAUER shows a fine line between biography picture/based on a true story, and a clever spy picture. Despite the odd title, really the public isn’t actively going after the main character, PEOPLE is a suspenseful thriller in the same vein as John le Carré. While based on the real-life hunt for Adolf Eichmann by Fritz Bauer, the fact it’s a real story is almost secondary for viewers like myself that were unaware of the history behind it. The movie isn’t a typical spy movie, but with its series of back stabbing higher ups, secret cameras, and rolls of red tape, the movie still works as a thrill ride. In many ways, it feels just like le Carré’s THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD.
The film is layered in so much detail, that repeat viewings of it are essential. There’s the main chase for Eichmann. The side story of Angermann and his championship with Bauer that evolves when it’s discovered that Angermann himself is gay. The question of sexuality mirrors the hunt for ex Nazis and the irony is Angermann himself sending fellow gay men to prison himself, showing that even the film’s heroes aren’t clear cut. The last layer is the deep and personal character study of Fritz and his regret that the hunt for former Nazi’s is literally killing him. In one scene, he discusses his regret that he didn’t stand up to the Nazi more during the war, and now this quest for justice is his way of redemption.
Burghart Klaubner (BRIDGE OF SPIES) completely becomes Fritz. The hidden rage he carries in every scene is quite impressive and he also gets some clever bits of character work. A running gag is his love for flamboyant socks. Ronald Zehrfeld (PHOENIX) is at first a likeable every man, but his performance gets more complex as he starts falling for a drag queen, who it just so happens he throw his lover in jail.
THE PEOPLE VS FRITZ HAUER is a fast and complex thriller, that had me at the edge of my seat for a huge chunk of the run time. A great watch, especially for fans of cold war thrillers by John le Carré.
THE PEOPLE VS FRITZ BAUER comes with two German language tracks. The superior of the two is the DST-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The sound mix is full of life and is precise with the smallest effect sounds. Pens clicking, cigars being lit, scratches on a record player, and so on are crisp and full of vivid noise coming off the TV speakers. The dialogue is clearly heard and the score by Christoph M Kaiser and Julian Maas is simply splendid to hear. Nothing is too loud or over bearing. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is slightly softer with some of the smaller details muted. Easy to read English subtitles are included in a white text.
The 1080p HD transfer is unbelievable in its sharpness. The black levels are smooth and the use of yellows and greys benefit the picture. The film has a pure looking 1960’s look that doesn’t ring false. The picture is razor focused, with some shots being near breath taking. One highlight is towards the end of the film. The long shot of Fritz in the jail is full of detail from the wind blowing papers around the desk, and even the faint smoke off a cigarette dancing up into the air. Hands down one of the first great transfers of 2017.
Cohen gives the movie a solid slate of extra features. First up is the making of THE PEOPLE VS FRITZ BAUER. It’s a great inside look into the film, with behind the scenes footage and cast interviews. Next up is 5 deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer. The Disc itself comes with a booklet of production stills and cast info.
THE PEOPLE VS FRITZ BAUER is an air tight thriller, that requires multiple viewings. If you enjoy smart cold war thrillers or John le Carré this is the film for you. Highly Recommended.