The Death of Klinghoffer

"Good"

The Death of Klinghoffer Review


"I should have worn a hat," sings Leon Klinghoffer (Sanford Sylvan) to his wife shortly before his death. He sits in his wheelchair on the deck of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, hijacked by Palestinian terrorists, wondering what happens next, and worrying about sunburn on his balding head. It's a touching moment, because anybody going into The Death of Klinghoffer knows what happens next: Klinghoffer is shot in the head and thrown overboard, making a middle-aged American on a Mediterranean vacation into a symbol for a sad and endless conflict.

Penny Woolcock's film is based on modern composer John Adams' 1991 opera, which in turn was inspired by the Achille Lauro affair, which took place over three tense days in October 1985. (In an odd resonance, the San Francisco screening took place the day after the real hijacking's ringleader, Abu Abbas, was captured in Baghdad.) As a movie, it's not fully successful: Dramatic opera staging and dramatic filmmaking aren't the same thing, and Klinghoffer often drags. It can only move as fast as the music, and Adams is a composer focused on slow, swimming paces. Yet Woolcock mostly makes the film work visually - she's excellent at the pointed close-up and frenzied camera movements, especially as we follow the terrorists' lives in flashbacks. In the poverty-stricken camps in which they grew up, we see the turmoil and anger that drives their lives into violent fundamentalism. Mamoud (Kamel Boutros) carries the key of his childhood home, from which he was evicted when it became part of the state of Israel.

It's almost - almost - enough to make you sympathize with the band of killers, and that's made Klinghoffer a controversial opera from the start. Many critics found it to be pro-Palestinian, and it's true that it shows a certain empathy from the hijacked travelers; one young British dancer on board sings of the free cigarettes they offered, their general kindness, and the song itself has a blithe, pop-like feel to it. But Klinghoffer is balanced: Every shot of destroyed refugee camps is paired with shots of concentration camps. Woolcock renders the conflict in terms of dead Palestinian and Jewish bodies, brutal accounting in a ghastly ledger.

But all that means that the film becomes less interested in the story of a hijacked cruise ship, so Klinghoffer relies on scenes of frightened passengers, which can be repetitive. The ship's captain, played and sung beautifully by Christopher Maltman, is wonderful to watch as the sturdy and pleading voice of reason, telling the hijackers that "I would say you did not fail until you killed." Leon Klinghoffer's wife Marilyn (Yvonne Howard) has no sympathy for the captain, who by the end tells him, "You embraced them!"

Leon himself is a cipher, a handicapped man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. "I'm a person who'd just as soon avoid trouble," he sings, sweetly. But it doesn't matter. Woolcock shows him and the wheelchair sinking, slowly, into the sea. She gives it to us over and over, and all we get to do is wonder why.



The Death of Klinghoffer

Facts and Figures

Run time: 120 mins

In Theaters: Friday 24th January 2003

Production compaines: Channel 4 Television

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
Fresh: 4 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 6.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Leon Klinghoffer, as The Captain of the "Achille Lauro", as Marylin Klinghoffer, as Molqui, as Mamoud, Houda Echouafni as Fatima, as Rambo

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Hidden Figures Movie Review

Hidden Figures Movie Review

This film recounts such a great true story that we don't mind the fact that...

The Founder Movie Review

The Founder Movie Review

This is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who created the concept of McDonald's....

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

John Wick: Chapter 2 Movie Review

Keanu Reeves picks up his supremely efficient hitman immediately where the 2015 original left him:...

Fences Movie Review

Fences Movie Review

After winning Tony Awards on Broadway, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis reteam for a film...

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

The Lego Batman Movie Movie Review

A spin-off from 2014's awesome The Lego Movie, this raucously paced action-comedy is proof that...

The Space Between Us Movie Review

The Space Between Us Movie Review

While the premise of this movie makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, the truth...

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

Toni Erdmann Movie Review

On paper, the idea of a two-hour 40-minute German comedy may not seem very promising,...

Advertisement
Gold Movie Review

Gold Movie Review

Based on a true story, this lively and sometimes outrageous adventure is packed with twists...

Loving Movie Review

Loving Movie Review

While this film tackles a huge issue in the history of race relations in America,...

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

T2 Trainspotting Movie Review

It's been 20 years since we last saw four freewheeling young junkies from Edinburgh spiral...

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Hacksaw Ridge Movie Review

Based on an astounding true story, this battlefield drama mixes warm emotion with intense action...

Sing Movie Review

Sing Movie Review

The quality of the animation in this musical comedy may not be up to Pixar...

Jackie Movie Review

Jackie Movie Review

Rather than make a standard biopic about the most famous First Lady in American history,...

Split Movie Review

Split Movie Review

After a few badly received sci-fi blockbusters, M. Night Shyamalan returned to his earthier style...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.