In Giulio Ricciarelli's Labyrinth of Lies, a daylit Teutonic Chinatown-lite, the detective-like hero, Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling), is a zealous West German prosecutor who in 1958 gets a tip that maybe he ought to look into this place called Auschwitz. "Wasn't it a protective-custody camp?" Radmann asks. But he digs in, and soon he's shocked to turn up evidence of crimes that went unpunished at Nuremberg — crimes that, today, we might wish were still unimaginable.
The film is imperfect, but it's valuable from that premise alone: In our culture of never forget, one thing often forgotten is how slow the Germans and the world were to acknowledge the scale of Hitler's systematic extermination of Jews. Before we could vow not to let genocide happen again, crusading spirits like Radmann had to get the world to admit there had been one.
To that end, in fleet and engaging scenes, Radmann and his small team elect to start prosecuting German civilians who served at Auschwitz a decade earlier, seemingly regular people who have mostly faded back in to everyday life. At times Labyrinth of Lies lists toward thriller silliness. The story has been mapped onto the sturdy, familiar template of most movies about dogged reporters and gumshoes digging for truths, so you'll often know how scenes will end as soon as they've begun. Steel yourself for dialogue ripped right from paperback thrillers. But, infelicities aside, this fictionalized Radmann reminds us of what courage that took -- and at its best the film suggests that perhaps even today the comforts of narrative cliché can help us to comprehend.