Adapted from a novel by thriller specialist Frederick Forsyth, The Odessa File has all the usual elements of an international-intrigue flick: disguises, investigation, revenge, secrets, suspense, and so on. Furthermore, with its story of a modern-day German hunting down a fugitive Nazi who committed war crimes during the Holocaust, the movie is, for the most part, a brisk morality play fueled by intense emotions. However, significant shortcomings relegate the film to lesser status by comparison with, say, the inspired Forsyth adaptation The Day of the Jackal (1973).
First, the characterization of leading man Peter Miller (Jon Voight) asks audiences to stretch believability to the limit. A freelance newspaper reporter hungry for a scoop, he discovers a journal left behind by an elderly Jew who just committed suicide. The man had recently learned that his concentration-camp tormentor, Nazi officer Eduard Roschmann (Maximilian Schell), is still alive, and was told that German authorities were unwilling to arrest Roschmann for his past misdeeds.
As Peter learns from the journal and other sources, Roschmann is among the Nazis protected by the Odessa, a secret pro-Nazi organization that is also supplying arms for attacks against Israel. (There’s a whole subplot in the film about one particular pending missile strike about Israel, but the filmmakers don’t give the subplot enough attention to warrant its inclusion, which is a waste.) Since investigating the Roschmann matter immediately puts Peter and his girlfriend (Mary Tamm) into mortal danger, it’s unbelievable that Peter becomes preoccupied with confronting the aging Nazi; even though the movie eventually provides a last-minute explanation for Peter’s actions, the revelation arrives too late to justify two hours of wondering what’s happening inside the protagonist’s head.
The Odessa File is also one of those bloated international thrillers in which the good guys take preposterously elaborate measures to accomplish things that, one presumes, could be achieved more simply. Specifically, anti-Nazi secret agents subject Peter to weeks of mental conditioning and physical alterations so he can pretend to be a former Nazi in order to infiltrate the Odessa organization—because, apparently, none of the highly trained operatives working with Peter are as capable of this particular mission as a hotheaded reporter nursing a personal grudge.
As directed by Poseidon Adventure helmer Ronald Neame, The Odessa File is drably professional, with no real point of view or style, and Voight isn’t particularly impressive; though earnest and intense, he’s constantly on the cusp of over-acting. Given all of these problems, The Odessa File is agreeable entertainment, but nothing more.
The Odessa File: FUNKY