‘Hannah Arendt’; Vegas Magicians; Sowing Chaos: Movies

Margarethe von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt” confines itself to the period in the early 1960s, when the German-born thinker covered the trial of Nazi chief Adolf Eichmann for the New Yorker magazine and weathered the firestorm that followed.

The movie does an honorable job of laying out the concepts of her articles, published in book form as “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.” (The documentary footage of the captive Eichmann, bland as celery, gets her point across even better than words.) But it falls apart when it attempts to portray Arendt as a martyr to those concepts.

Since many of her conclusions are now widely accepted, the picture makes it all too easy to feel superior to the angry Jews -- mostly male -- who scream at the writer for daring to suggest that the well-organized Jewish councils wound up helping the Nazis in their task of extermination.

Barbara Sukowa plays Arendt as a steely chain smoker far too devoted to ideas to soften their edges -- “let the ships fall where they may,” as she mispronounces the phrase. Although she looks about as much like Arendt as Jane Fonda looks like Lillian Hellman, she and von Trotta accomplish something unusual in a movie: They make thinking dramatic.

“Hannah Arendt,” from Zeitgeist Films, is playing in New York and opens in L.A. on June 7. Rating: **1/2 (Seligman)

‘The East’

“The East,” Zal Batmanglij’s espionage thriller pitting neo-Yippie eco-terrorists against corporate evil-doers, is ever so earnest.

Brit Marling, who co-wrote the script with Batmanglij, plays Sarah Moss, a former FBI agent-turned-corporate investigator who infiltrates a radical anarchist collective called the East.

With an-eye-for-an-eye gusto, the East “jams” its corporate targets with highly creative (and absurdly convoluted) acts of vengeance.

So the pharmaceutical fat cats responsible for a brain-damaging antibiotic get a dose of their own meds at a cocktail party, while kidnapped CEOs are forced to swim in toxic ponds.

Predictably, Marling’s infiltrator begins to question her former allegiance -- little surprise, given the film’s cartoon villainy (Patricia Clarkson plays the ice-cold boss) and the soulful, teary eyes of the chief anarchist (Alexander Skarsgard).

The movie’s squishy moralism withstands only a tad more scrutiny than its plot contrivances. An unconvincing ending is tacked on during the credits, silently, as if words fail.

“The East,” from Fox Searchlight Pictures, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ** (Evans)

No Magic

Swirling cameras and an assortment of famous faces can’t distract from the baffling mess of Louis Leterrier’s new heist movie.

Before it spins into total incomprehensibility, “Now You See Me” chronicles four Vegas-style magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco) who join forces to stage two massive heists in full view of their audiences.

How they rob a Paris vault from the Vegas stage, or, later, drain the bank account of a crooked millionaire (Michael Caine) during a New Orleans performance isn’t worth figuring out --none of it could be accomplished without movie trickery and massive leaps of faith.

In other words, it’s a cheat even before taking a last-minute excursion into a more fantastical genre.

Mark Ruffalo, in the rumpled mode put to better use in 2007’s “Zodiac,” plays the FBI agent trying to figure out how and where the illusionists will strike next.

He’s assisted by a beautiful French Interpol agent (Melanie Laurent, with nothing to do) and guided by a famous magic debunker (Morgan Freeman, as usual).

The script (by Boaz Yakin, Edward Ricourt and Ed Solomon) rushes through car chases, blind alleys and Ruffalo’s various expressions of befuddlement. It lands, finally, at a flashy outdoor spectacle in New York City that’s as preposterous as everything that’s come before.

“Now You See Me,” from Summit Entertainment, is playing across the U.S. Rating: Zero stars. (Evans)

‘Shadow Dancer’

The year is 1993. Collette McVeigh (Andrea Riseborough), a young Belfast mother, is such a half-hearted terrorist that she can’t even set the bomb she leaves in the London Tube to go off.

British intelligence nabs her anyway. Threatened with prison and assured by a British operative, Mac (Clive Owen), that she can help stem the violence, she turns informer. Very soon, the blood she was supposed to stanch is flowing.

James Marsh’s “Shadow Dancer” gives us, on one side, scuzzy British bureaucrats and, on the other, scruffy Irish Republicans, all ready to kill with the cold conviction that justice is on their side. Collette and Mac, both decent, both well-meaning, are caught in the middle.

Riseborough and Owen don’t have much to do but look tense. The chronicle of their characters’ diminishing trust in each other is convincing; it’s also joyless. The only poetry in this harsh film is in the title.

“Shadow Dancer,” from Magnolia Pictures, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ** (Seligman)

What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

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