You can’t criticize a Jewish movie, at least not Holocaust movies or war crimes movies. While this isn’t so, it sure feels like it. This is awkward for a movie critic. None-the-less, “Nuremberg,” host for the world’s first war crimes trial, is also supposed to be a film about the trial. It’s made from American footage that documented the due process or the process that was due to the Nazi defendants. If you’ve been in court, your lawyer may have reminded the jurors that reality isn’t meant or suited for TV. Well, you might say the same about this documentary.
So, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson represented America’s interests and sat as main prosecutor, while Great Britain’s Lord Justice Lawrence sat as the court’s chief justice. Their task was to bring to justice Hermann Göring, Commander-in-Chief of Germany’s air force, the Luftwaffe, Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s deputy in the Nazi Party, Hans Frank, the former Nazi governor of Poland, Baldur von Schirach, the Hitler Youth head and their like in a criminal court.
Landmark Theatres’ Lagoon Cinema will start showing “Nuremberg: It’s Lesson for Today” on February 4th. The question of “today” refers to the today of 1948, when it was made. The producer, Sandra Schulberg, will attend on the 4th and 5th to answer audience questions.
Most viewers are probably familiar with the 1961 fiction, “Judgment at Nuremberg,” with its constellation of Hollywood talent, including Burt Lancaster, Maximilian Schell, Marlene Dietrich and many other, about the Nuremberg trials. Most people have forgotten or don’t understand that, according to co-producer Sandra Schulberg, “Judgment at Nuremberg” portrayed the fourth or fifth out of several international criminal trials that were held in Nuremberg. Some viewers may have assumed that it’s a fiction take on the original trial.
“Nuremberg” plays and feels like a film that you’d have to sit through in a history or social studies class. Clearly this film was not made with commerce in mind. The story cuts between reading each of the four criminal charges and then a concise run-down of Germany’s historic milestones or deeds that built up to the final solution, using footage from two other films, described later. Each of these types of footage is paired at least four times, as each charge is addressed. The archive footage didn’t seem to refer to any of those charges, so its purpose is vague if not a mystery. …Unless they were included so to remind viewers of why these criminals were on trial. (A conversation with Ms. Schulberg confirmed this.)
According to the film’s website, “the film makes extensive use of footage from The Nazi Plan and Nazi Concentration Camps, evidentiary films compiled under the supervision of Budd Schulberg, that were presented at the Nuremberg trial.” How many film-goers are curious or zealous enough to peruse that site?
The opinion here is very different, even disparate (harsh and critical) from Andrew O’Hehir’s piece, “Nuremberg” for Salon.com, in September 2010.
It takes a good 20-minutes to figure out how the story and its structure will unfurl itself, and the point of “saying” that this is about the trial, while interspersing archive footage to maybe fill out the feature-length. This is not one of the ten best films out there about the Holocaust.
This story works poorly, offering no entertainment value. Yes. The prospect of pairing the words Holocaust and entertainment in a phrase is peculiar and more than a little icky, but a part of the potency and poignancy in 1993′s “Schindler’s List” and 1991′s “Europa, Europa” is that people enjoyed watching the stories. There were people to root for. A people is not a character. “Nuremberg” has no one specific to care about, no specific personalities to root for. Beyond a Jewish film festival, or high school or college classrooms, where else would this film find a mass of eager viewers?
The film’s pace and tone are key faults. The major discomfort is that while the drama should be inherent, it often feels as dry as a business briefing. This is for those young viewers, who haven’t yet seen footage of the conditions of the various camps’ prisoners, those emasciated and walking dead. While Liev Schrieber’s narration helps guide us through the footage, it’s too bad that that footage is old news for older, more seasoned viewers, who expect a court movie to devote its time to…a court drama. But reasons abound for the meager trial footage.
The film’s backstory is complex. The technical and political problems, which the producers faced are explicated on its website or if you meet Ms. Schulberg – while one crew, Photographic Branch/War Crimes unit, was eager to capture as much footage as possible, they were overwhelmed with filming for the other two films, so the U.S. Army Signal Corps crew covered the trial. While morose, Ms. Schulberg’s relatives, Budd and Stuart, learned well after the fact that they had merely only 25 hours were filmed during the 10-month trial.
Criticizing this film brings a problem: outside of the fictional “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “Nuremberg” may be the sole film that shows Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Hans Frank, Baldur von Schirach and their like in a criminal court. It’s difficult to criticize a film with undeniable historical merit. But few people will make a point of watching it because of the flaws explicated above.
If we were to rate this: 2 out of 5.