2.5 Stars out of 4
Conspiracy is a semi-remarkable “HBO special” of a movie about the banality of evil. It takes place on January 20, 1942 in the heart of winter in Germany. While the Nazis were fighting in Russia, 15 Nazi bigwigs gathered in a luxurious vila in Wannsee to discuss the Jewish Question. While their soldiers starved, these men guzzled biscuits, sipped tea, and enjoyed the warmth of the vila’s living room.
I know: we expect a darkly lit boardroom with Nazis growling anti-Semitic comments and chewing their cups while the tea splashes agains their lips. Rest be sure, there is an underlying ruthlessness at this conference, but it’s hidden with calm smiles and friendly table manners. The meeting was run by Reinhard Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh, director of Thor), Heinrich Himmler’s second-in-command and the minutes were counted by Adolf Eichmann (Stanley Tucci, so devilish here) the SS Officer for Jewish Affairs.
The others include (you might know them): Foreign Minister Martin Luther (Kevin McNally), State Secretary Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart (Colin Firth, what?), Four-Year Plan founder Erich Neumann (Jonathan Coy), and many others. Although he arranged the conference, Hitler was not present. He was too busy giving lip service. All the men look like regular folk, except they hold completely irreverent ideologies.
Watching Conspiracy, you are shocked how light and casual this meeting was. A few arguments were spat out, but they were alleviated with short breaks for luscious treats. Soon after, the men sat down again and discussed how to organize the systematic killings of over 6 million Jewish people. By this point, Jewish banishment seemed impossible. There were efforts to contain or resettle them in Poland, but that came to no avail. This led to the last resort: extermination.
Such discussion alludes to sterilization, Four-Year Plan (an economic movement which was bygone by the 1940s), and mass movement – all which are rebuked. Heydrich did not want an ad hoc plan, assuming that the Jews needed to be taken care of in an organized and harsh fashion. The “Final Solution”, he posited, was death by gas chambers. Blame must be forced upon Heydrich for the Wannsee Conference amounting to such a nefarious end.
Conspiracy is a purely informal drama. The performances are fine, but I was thrown off by the English accents. At that time, certainly the British and Germans did not mix. Therefore, the film sort of loses a realistic edge by not giving the characters the proper dialect. Having said that, Tucci and Branagh are effective (Tucci took a Golden Globe, Branagh an Emmy) as the slippery, slimy, and manipulative leaders of the Conference, who carried an uncompromising notion of Jewish extermination. Although the Conference was banal, they certainly comprised the evil.
Conspiracy was directed by Frank Pierson who is faced here with the difficult challenge of a dialogue-driven story. He just isn’t an expert at one-room dramas like Sidney Lumet was with his 12 Angry Men. The script, written by Loring Mandel, is adequate but doesn’t drive the narrative but simply consists it.
As an HBO special, Conspiracy does what it sets out to do: inform. But I wanted more, something a little more dynamic and inventive. The ending is the usual obligatory conclusion for these kind of movies: the superimposed title credits displaying the fates of these prosperous, conniving, horrible and sadly genius businessmen. Yes, that’s what they were. Not rabid dogs or droopy-eyed monsters. So goes the banality of evil. There must have been more to it though.