This brisk and tightly focussed biopic of the Jewish-German philosopher and political thinker Hannah Arendt, portrayed charismatically and without much in the way of showy affectation by Barbara Sukowa, looks specifically at the period of her life for which she is perhaps most famously remembered: her controversial coverage of the 1961 trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Israel for The New Yorker. Margarethe Von Trotta's compassionate film looks at the ensuing controversy over Arendt's dismissal of the Nazi, who would be executed for his role in the Holocaust, as a petty bureaucrat and as evidence of the "banality of evil": essentially that the greatest threat of society and morality is those individuals who refuse or are unable to think for themselves. Those who hide behind procedures and rules and orders in an unthinking way, paying little interest in the consequences. It's a compelling idea and one that the film explains and explores well.
It's frustrating watching a thinker being chastised by intellectuals and educators for trying to think, as opposed to merely behaving in a reactionary and crowd-pleasing way, yet in showing this 'Hannah Arendt' paints of a picture of its subject as a brave and fascinating genius whose various published works should be eagerly sought out. A German-language film, albeit set in New York with several American actors, sometimes the English language scenes feel clunky, and it does seem to present Israel as some sort of romantic idyll, but overall this is a really interesting drama about the perils and pitfalls of daring to think and of the calamities that await our species should we refuse to. It may be a period piece, but the subject matter is timeless.