ON JANUARY 20, 1942, AT THE HEIGHT OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR, 15GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND SS COMMANDERS ATTENDED A CONFERENCE ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF BERLIN. IT WAS A SIMPLE MEETING, WHICH BY THEEND WOULD DECIDE THE FATE OF SIX M... more »ILLION LIVES. CONSPIRACY IS BASED ON THE ONLY SURVIVING RECORD OF THAT MEETING.« less
""Conspiracy" is a perfect example of what happens when you pair a first-class cast with a first-rate script. You discover (or re-discover) that you do not need explosions, MTV-style editing or gimmickery to tell a good tale. This movie has all the budget and movement of a play, and is entirely dialogue-driven. But it works. Oh boy, does it work.It is generally credited by historians that the infamous "Wansee Conference" of January 1942 was the real beginning of the Holocaust, i.e. of the Nazi Reich's all-out effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Prior to that, the Reich had contented itself with kicking them out of public life, taxing them into beggary, subjecting them to every form of humiliation, and essentially negating their status as human beings. When the war started, however, this policy, known as the 'emigration solution' (i.e., solve the "problem" of Jews living in the Reich by forcing them to emigate) became obsolete. The inefficient and corrupt Nazi bureaucracy was ill-suited even to handle the relatively small population of German Jews; and Nazi conquests, however, quickly increased the number of Jews in German-occupied territories to around eleven million. In other words, the very success of the German military effort in Europe had actually increased the size of the 'Jewish problem' a hundred times over. And since forcible emigration of 11 million people outside the German sphere of influence was not possible, something else had to be done to tackle this 'problem.' But what?"Conspiracy" is about the bureacratic genesis of the Holocaust. It shows, in more or less real time, a fictionalized version of a real-life conference of 15 officials from the SS/SD, Gestapo, Railway Ministry, Interior Ministry, Government General, and Ministry of Justice, which was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich and organized by Adolf Eichmann. As a movie, however, it is really a study in the essential amorality of bureacracy and, to use a tired phrase, the banality of evil. First off, the performances are superb. Kenneth Branagh gives probably the best turn of his career as Heydrich, a man who has absolutely no philosophy, ideology or morality other than a Terminator-like determination to carry out his orders, whatever they may entail, and to crush any obstacle in his path. You get the feeling he would be just as content to kill everyone with brown hair or webbed feet if that was his assignment, and if a few fellow Nazis happen to oppose him, then he would be just as happy to 'evacuate' them as any Jews. In fact, the description that Dr. Stuckart uses for the Jewish people in the film, "arrogant, self-obsessed....(but) sublimely clever, and intelligent as well" is actually a very good description of Heydrich. Branagh portrays him as a man with no human qualities himself, but excellent instincts about human nature. He knows when to condescend, when to bully, when to threaten, and when to appeal to self-interest, and he can shift from one to the other and back without a trace of discomfort.Stanley Tucci, as Eichmann, is also very good. Like Heydrich shifts his personality around like a revolving door depending on what is required of him, but he is also a true-blue bureacrat in the worst sense of the word. To his superiors, especially Heydrich, he is utterly subservient; hovering about like a dog, laughing politely at jokes he doesn't find amusing, attempting with limited success to be 'one of the guys' when Nazi vulgarity rears its head. But to his subordinates he is a coldly arrogant bully, slapping one soldier in the face for throwing snowballs outside, telling another he will pay for a dish he broke by accident. In fact, he reminds me of a couple of schoolteachers I had growing up....and at least one boss.Colin Firth is brilliant as Wilhelm Stuckart, the lawyer who drafted the Laws for the Protection of German Blood and Honor (better known as the Nuremburg Laws), and who is perfectly content to see all the Jews of Europe sterilized and shipped off
to be used as slave labor, possibly even exterminated wholsesale, so long as it is all done within a 'legal framework' (HIS legal framework). Eichmann characterizes the bureaucrat from hell, then Stuckart is certainly the lawyer from hell; a person who has no gods before the law, and simply cannot abide the idea of the whole crazy scheme being perpetrated without benefit of a legislative blessing. Eleven million murders? That's nothing. But without enacting a law first? Unthinkable!Ian McNeice, as Stuckart's nemesis Dr. Klopfer, a corpulent Nazi Party bigwig with a disgustingly smug and vulgar way of handling himself. .... He's a raging anti-Semite who is all for killing the Jews, so long as the Party doesn't lose any administrative turf to the SS in the process. He has no respect whatever for the law despite being a lawyer himself (as is almost everyone in the room....go figure that one....); and unlike the brilliant but rather naive Stuckart, Klopfer has no illusions about rule of law in Nazi Germany. We have the power to do what we want, he says; we can always re-write the laws afterwards."Conspiracy" was written by Loring Mandel, who deserves special praise for penning a movie that is nothing but conversation but which is still very gripping. I'm surprised some people would quibble with his dramatic interpretation of what happened; how could you make an entertaining about what the actual conference was probably like -- fifteen Nazi lawyers drinking wine, eating canapes, and reading figures about mass deportations and what does or does not constitute a Jew? Mandel's script gets to the heart of the mentality behind the Holocaust, which was that despite being at war with the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States of America, despite being outnumbered six to one in manpower and 20 - 1 in industrial capacity, despite fighting on multiple fronts and lacking most of the natural resources necessary for war, and despite the unspoken consequences to themselves and their country's reputation if they lost the war and their 'secret' was exposed, the mentality of WWII Germany was still open to the idea of diverting massive resources into slaughtering defenseless civilians by the million. If that isn't the bureacratic blindness from hell, what isn't?"
Final Solution to a storage problem
Joseph Haschka | Glendale, CA USA | 08/04/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"CONSPIRACY serves as a reminder of the banality of human evil, even at its most horrific.On January 20, 1942, with Nazi armies stalled in the snow at the gates of Moscow, a lakeside mansion in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee is the venue for a conference. Fifteen government bureaucrats and high ranking officers of the SS gather. History is advised to remember these otherwise appallingly ordinary representatives of the human species: SS General Reinhard Heydrich (Reich Security Main Office), SS Lt. Colonel Adolf Eichmann (Office of Jewish Affairs), SS Lt. General Heinrich Müller (Gestapo), Gerhard Klopfer (Nazi Party Chancellery), Wilhelm Kritzinger (Reichs-Chancellery), SS Lt. General Otto Hofmann (Race and Settlement Main Office), Dr. Georg Liebbrandt and Dr. Alfred Meyer (Reichs-Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories), Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart (Reichs-Ministry of the Interior), Undersecretary Martin Luther (Foreign Ministery), SS Major Rudolf Lange (SS Taskforces in Latvia), Director Erich Neumann (Office of the Four Year Plan), Dr. Joseph Bühler and SS Colonel Karl Schöngarth (Government-General of Occupied Poland), and Dr. Roland Freisler (Reichs-Ministry of Justice).Even after coerced emigration, 132,000 Jews remain in Germany. As the Wehrmacht gobbles up territory, millions more - potentially 11 million - will come under Nazi control. As it's put in this film, there's a burgeoning "storage problem", and the chairman of the meeting, Heydrich (Kenneth Branagh), is calling for unanimous agreement on a "final solution".As the viewer sees, it's not the concept of the eradication of the Jews from Germany and the occupied territories that fuels the debate, it's the modus operandi, and which individuals, particularly those of impure blood resulting from a confusing variety of mixed marriages, are to be targeted. At one point, even the semantics of the process - "evacuation" vs. "execution" - are at issue. And, of course, it all must be done legally as proscribed by the Nuremburg Laws. Finally, after the group dances around the issue of method, Heydrich and his deputy Eichmann (Stanley Tucci) get to the crux of the matter. The Jews are to be gassed in special camps established for that purpose. At the current stage of technology, the gold standard is apparently 60,000 exterminations a day.The impact of CONSPIRACY derives from the chilling ordinariness of the conference and its tone. These fifteen might just as well be the top management of a large corporation discussing the eradication of rats from one of its manufacturing sites, or the construction of an assembly line to produce more and better widgets. As a note of interest, nine of those present were lawyers by training.Branagh renders a positively brilliant performance as the ultimate devil's advocate, who steers the meeting to its foregone conclusion with a mixture of charm and quiet menace. When Kritzinger (David Threfall) objects that Hitler has declared to him personally that execution of the Jews is not his intent, Heydrich cooly reminds him, "Yes, and he will continue to do so." Plausible deniability, you see. And later in a private conversation when Heydrich demands Kritzinger's full support, the SS General remarks that the latter would be a difficult man to bring down - but it could be managed. At the film's conclusion, the fate of all involved is provided in text overlay. Heydrich was assassinated by Czech partisans. Eichmann, Bühler and Schöngarth were tried and executed. All the rest either went free for lack of war crimes evidence, served time and were released, died of natural causes, were killed in the closing months of the war, or just disappeared. Indeed, Klopfer sold insurance after the war and presumably died in his bed.The Final Solution took planning. As Eichmann angrily berates an Army chauffeur for engaging on whim in an undignified snowball fight with his fellow drivers awaiting their masters, "Things just don't happen." The record of the Wannsee Conference which served as the basis for CONSPIRACY came from Luther's copy of the minutes discovered after the war. Ironically, Luther himself was sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1944 for plotting against his boss in the Foreign Ministry."
Great Dramatization, Great Tucci/Branagh
Angela Mitchell | Bowling Green, OH USA | 07/03/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Yes, it is difficult to get the most accurate information available with regard to the Wannsee Conference. Primarily, because the Nazis destroyed some of the documentation for it. However, as one who has read the available documentation about the Conference (thanks to collegiate professor of social history w/regards to the War Periods) the overall structure of the dramatization holds up the minutes of the Conference. Though we can never really know what was discussed, it is likely that the content is rather accurate.Besides the accuracy of this dramatization, the basis of this 90 minute film is dialogue...both spoken and unspoken. The two major peformers, Stanley Tucci and Kenneth Branagh perform their respective parts with chilling accuracy. Tucci as Eichmann is a phenomonal thing to behold. Branagh's Heydrich is also chillingly accurate and a wonderful thing to watch unfold. The secondary cast performs well, with emphasis on Colin Firth's part.Once again, HBO does a fabulous job with Conspiracy. Wonderfully written, splendidly acted, and approaches a diffucult topic (not only to discuss but to research) with as much accuracy as possible. Dark and haunting, Conspiracy is probably one of my favorite Dramatizations of Nazi policy and WW2.If you don't know much about the Wannsee Conference, Conspiracy is a good introduction to the material, with enough power behind it to inspire you to research it on your own...I know this for a fact because this is what it did for me."
A. Vegan | Ontario Canada | 12/03/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The film documents a meeting held during WW2, when SS second-in-command, Reinhard Heydrich, assembles a group of Nazi bureaucrats and functionaries to 'discuss the final solution of the Jewish question'. In the sublime surroundings of a German country house, the assembled mingle for drinks, enjoy a first class buffet lunch and debate whether execution or sterilisation is the most efficient option of eliminating an entire race of people. Credit must be given to Kenneth Branagh who propels the entire piece with one of the best portrayals on screen in memory. He is utterly convincing in the role of a man who epitomises the classic definition of evil: not just the doing of wrong, but the perversion of the human spirit so that it no longer has any perception of the good. Overall this is an excellent film that benefits from great acting, a great script and great direction. "
Anne-Elisabeth Moutet | Paris, France | 06/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is exactly what television should be like: intelligent, thought-provoking, brilliantly written and acted. The Wannsee Conference, held on January, 20, 1942, was convened by Reinhard Heydrich, Himmler's second in command of the SS (Kenneth Branagh), chillingly assisted by his deputy Eichmann (Stanley Tucci), near Berlin: it gathered 15 top Nazi bureaucrats to coordinate the Final Solution in which the Nazis would attempt to exterminate the entire Jewish population of Europe. The attendants kept minutes, so that this teleplay is based largely on historical fact. The genius of the actors, director Frank Pierson and writer Loring Mandel is to make us understand how ordinary top bureaucrats could be pushed into accepting the ultimate horror - and to make this into an entertaining, and sometimes even very funny movie. The writing is so crisp you want to remember every line."