Conspiracy has about as little action as can be; the stage directions for the entire movie are essentially “People enter a room. They talk. They leave.” It’s just over an hour and a half, and padded, with long sequences at the beginning and end of the room getting prepared. It follows the standard practice of docudrama, with captions at the end explaining what happened to everyone. And it’s absolutely riveting.
Conspiracy re-creates the Wannsee Conference, the 1942 Nazi meeting where the details of the Holocaust, including methods and locations, were finalized. There are few other movies where the conventionality becomes such a strength: this doesn’t look like anything unusual, because it wasn’t. It’s a meeting of middle managers; apart from the subject, it could be any such meeting in the industrial era. (Like a lot of meetings, the purpose isn’t to decide on a course of action, it’s to get everyone to sign off on a decision that’s already been made.) It feels like the final lines from Leonard Cohen’s “All There Is to Know About Adolf Eichmann” in movie form:
What did you expect?
Frank Pierson (screenwriter of Dog Day Afternoon and Presumed Innocent) directs unobtrusively; Stanley Tucci (as Eichmann), Colin Firth, and David Threlfall all perform simply and well–Threlfall in particular gets a great moment when he realizes the meeting’s real purpose. As Reinhard Heydrich, Kenneth Branagh adds one more portrait to his gallery of Nazis (see also: Valkyrie, Swing Kids). Without doing anything overt, he embodies a sense of absolute brutality in a performance comparable to James Cromwell’s Dudley Smith in L. A. Confidential. I suspect it comes from shutting down the expressiveness of his mobile, even sometimes goofy face; his Heydrich already knows what’s going to happen.
It’s unexciting and necessary, a reminder that the worst of humanity can wear a normal face. If you want to see what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil,” watch this.
Conspiracy streams free on Amazon Prime.