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A well-crafted suspense thriller
on June 16, 2004
The year is 1963...as the world is reeling from the assassination of President Kennedy, Egypt has missiles posed to annihilate Israel. The only thing preventing this is the lack of guidance technology to properly target the missiles, which Egypt is on the verge of obtaining with assistance from a group of Germans, once officers within the SS during World War II, now members of a group called Odessa, a clandestine organization designed to assist ex-German military personal gain new identities and lives, thereby avoiding capture, after the end of the war.
The Odessa File (1974) takes the popular Frederick Forsyth novel of the same name, which is supposedly based on actual facts and events, and presents it as a truly wonderful, tense thriller that I really enjoyed. Directed by accomplished cinematographer and director Ronald Neame, the film stars Jon Voight as freelance German journalist Peter Miller and Maximilian Schell as an ex-German officer named Eduard Roschmann, a man responsible for horrible atrocities, earning him the nickname `The Butcher', during his tenure as head of a concentration camp which housed Jewish prisoners. After the passing of an elderly Jewish survivor of a WWII concentration camp, Miller comes into possession of a diary kept by the man, one which detailed, in particular, the various crimes against humanity by Roschmann, and also seemed to indicate that the war criminal may still be alive. As Miller begins delving into the story, uncovering tidbits of information, he meets resistance in the form of various individuals, many of which turn out to be members of the secret Odessa organization, and are now actively working against Miller for fears that he may uncover their secrets.
As Miller gets closer to uncovering the truths, the resistance against him grows, and takes the form of actual attempts on his life. Around this time he comes into contact with a Jewish group, working to locate the site within Germany that's developing the guidance system for the Egyptian rockets, and Miller agrees to work with them, changing his identity in order to become an ex-German officer and enable him access to the Odessa organization. In exchange for this, Miller will supply the group with information, while he himself tries to get closer to Roschmann. As Miller infiltrates the group, his cover is eventually blown, but not before he learns of the existence of the Odessa file, documents that detail many of the members within the group, including Roschmann. The goal now is survival, and given the circumstances, his chances seem pretty slim.
I have not actually read the book, but I really liked this film. Jon Voight is wonderful and believable, German accent and all, as a reporter, seemingly driven by a determination to expose a subversive hideousness, once prominent in his country, that has now gone underground, and threatens yet again a great many peoples of the world. Listed as a thriller/drama, The Odessa File certainly doesn't disappoint. The plot, while having many twists and turns, keeps focused, and rarely falters in its' progression. The development of the characters is carefully planned, but not so to bring attention to the fact, allowing for the viewer to become drawn into the film. The exposition at the beginning was a little awkward to me, but I didn't see any other way around it, so I accepted it. Schell provides an excellent performance as an ex-German officer hiding in broad daylight, one who will resort to any means necessary to protect his secrets, along with those of the Odessa group. One point I enjoyed was near the end, as a particular revelation was made. Prior to that point, I had started to question one of the main character's motivations, and, as if the film knew what I was thinking, it answered my question in a completely satisfying manner. The film runs just over two hours, and the first half may seem slow, but I felt as if this was deliberate, allowing time for the story to develop. During the second half the film picks up speed as the tension mounts, drawing on the momentum carefully constructed in the beginning, resulting in a wholly enjoyable conclusion. Given the nature of realizing novels to film, I suspect a number of plot elements were left out, but what was left seemed to be missing very little, at least anything that left a glaring hole which would pull the viewer out of the movie with its' obviousness, which indicates a skillful adaptation of original source material, done with care to preserve the elements which made the book so very popular and well received. All in all, this is a really thrilling outing, one that requires a little patience, but provides a rewarding experience overall.
Presented on this release are really good looking prints, both in wide screen and full screen formats (it's double-sided). The audio seems a bit soft, but there are English subtitles, so I missed nothing. As far as special features, there are some well put together production notes in a four page booklet within the DVD case, an original theatrical trailer, talent biographies for actors Voight, Schell, and director Neame, and trailers for Anaconda (1997) and Oliver Stone's U-Turn (1997), neither film as good as this one, but both certainly benefiting from Voight's appearance...and that's another thing...remember when Jon Voight appeared in good films? Along with this film, I also count Midnight Cowboy (1969), Catch-22 (1970), Deliverance (1972), and Runaway Train (1985) to be some real highlights of his career...and let's look at some of his more recent films...Most Wanted (1997), The Karate Dog (2004), and Baby Geniuses 2 (2004)...not exactly the caliber of films early in his career, but who knows what the future holds?