The Specialist

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The Specialist

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Throughout his 1961 trial in an Israeli courtroom for "crimes against humanity," lieutenant colonel Adolf Eichmann, the chief engineer in the forced emigration of Jews to Nazi death camps, was encased in a bulletproof glass box. Considering this extreme precaution, the first glimpse of the slight, bespectacled man inside the cage looks faintly ridiculous, hardly the image of evil that might be conjured by popular imagination. But the chilling disparity between Eichmann's placid, seemingly harmless face and the persistent testimony of his atrocities is what makes The Specialist, an artful assemblage of the trial, such a riveting historical document. Much like the groundbreaking Point Of Order, which compressed the Army-McCarthy hearings into a near-abstract 90 minutes, the film consists entirely of actual trial footage, whittled down from 500 hours of videotape and introduced with minimal context. During Eichmann's trial, the Israeli government made the surprising decision to allow American documentarian Leo Hurwitz to train four cameras on the proceedings; later, the footage was found uncatalogued and badly deteriorated, nearly a third of it unusable. But from these limitations, director Eyal Sivan and co-writer Rony Brauman piece together a non-sequential version of events that captures the highlights while still providing a coherent account of how the Nazi machine operated. Hiding behind a mountain of incriminating paperwork, Eichmann came to personify "the banality of evil," The Final Solution as fronted by a pencil-pushing bureaucrat. When impassioned prosecutor Giddeon Hausner bombards him with damning queries and wrenching testimonials, Eichmann can only reply that he was merely following orders, pretending not to know where his trains and wagons were actually headed. But just when he seems prepared to answer any question, there comes a remarkable moment, as show-stopping as the famous rhetorical line ("Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?") that ended McCarthy's career. An Israeli judge, speaking to the accused in German for the first time, simply asks, "Did you feel any crisis of conscience?" In that instant, Hurwitz's cameras captured a haunting truth not found in the transcripts: the utter bewilderment of a man who doesn't understand the question.

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