Sunday, April 14, 2024

Movie Reviews: “The People Vs. Fritz Bauer” and “The Hollars”

At the beginning of the German historical drama “The People Vs. Fritz Bauer,” the title character (Burghart Klaussner) is sinking into his bathtub, unconscious from sleeping pills and alcohol. He’ll claim later that his act was not a suicide attempt, but it’s hard to blame him if it was.

Fritz Bauer was attorney general of Frankfurt in the late 1950s, a figure of significant controversy: He was a German socialist of Jewish origin, who reputedly frequented male prostitutes. With his shock of white hair and socially awkward workaholism, he’s an unlikely hero. Thanks to Klaussner’s dogged, rough-around-the-edges performance, he also seems like the craziest guy in the room.

But this is the man who clandestinely led his city’s charge to bring the Nazi high command to justice while the majority of Germans would rather enjoy the domestic comforts of their country’s economic miracle. As the movie presents them, Germany’s political leaders and the international police constituted a more egregious obstacle, littered as they were with former S.S. officers dedicated to keeping their fellow-vermin in hiding.

Talky but engaging, and shot like a shadowy American noir, “The People Vs. Fritz Bauer” dramatizes its imperfect hero’s quest to prosecute one Nazi in particular—Adolf Eichmann (Michael Schenk), in all his evil banality—against a system that stonewalls him at every turn. We witness Eichmann and his trusted state attorney Karl Angermann (Ronald Zehrfeld) chase shady leads and resort to blackmail, treason and media misdirection, confident the ends will justify the means.

The film’s target is less Eichmann, whose crimes against humanity are by now unspeakably familiar, than it is the country itself, and the people’s desire to embrace complacency and normalcy instead of atoning for national shame. The fact that it was selected by Germany as its Academy Award submission for the 2016 Oscars reflects its nation’s moral turnaround from the obfuscations of its postwar past.

Watch this film, and then revisit Margarethe Von Trotta’s 2012 feature “Hannah Arendt,” about the Eichmann trial. Collectively they convey the long struggle for international justice, each of them packing intellectual wallops that transcend their time and place.

“The People Vs. Fritz Bauer” opens today at Regal Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton, Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth and Miami’s Tower Theater.

***

At its worst, “The Hollars” is “Garden State” redux: A you-can’t-go-home-again midlife-crisis dramedy centered on a parent’s health, where malaise, dysfunction and quirk grapple for emotional dominance.

Inhabiting the Zach Braff archetype to a T is director-star John Krasinski, whose John Hollar is a struggling graphic artist in New York unhappily living with his pregnant girlfriend Rebecca (Anna Kendrick). He returns to his Ohio home when his mother Sally (Margot Martindale) is diagnosed with a softball-sized brain tumor. John’s estranged family turns out to be a shambles in more ways than one: His misfit brother Rob (Sharlto Copley) lives in his parents’ basement and routinely stalks his ex-wife, and his father Don (Richard Jenkins) is on verge of bankrupting his lifelong business thanks to the sagging economy.

There’s an annoying insincerity to the film’s meandering comic relief, in which supporting characters converse in arch rejoinders and collapse into asinine stereotypes—the foils for many quizzical looks from Krasinski’s straight man/audience surrogate. Krasinski never quite sheds the preciousness of this common Indiewood genre trapping, yet “The Hollars” accumulates a poignant dramatic power. There comes a time when it virtually forgets to be funny and begins to resemble real life in all of its complexity—from would-be parents sharing doubts about their pending responsibilities to senior citizens forced to toil at minimum-wage jobs again.

The eruptions of exquisite vulnerability Krasinski elicits from Jenkins and Martindale trickle down to the rest of his ensemble, as latent regrets bubble to the surface and then recede. I admit to crying more than once, despite the film’s manipulations and pedestrian desire to leave no storyline incomplete. The body of “The Hollars” may need its share of tune-ups, but its soul is present.

“The Hollars” opens today at Living Room Theaters and Regal Shadowood in Boca Raton, Movies of Delray, Movies of Lake Worth, Muvico Parisian 20 in West Palm Beach, and other area theaters.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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