Farce just isn’t a style we generally affiliate with the Germans, however then, as “Curveball” reminds us on the outset, this wildly atypical Teutonic satire — which performs like a cross between “Wag the Canine” and “Dr. Strangelove” in its portrayal of incompetence on the highest ranges — is “A real story. Sadly.” Extra mea culpa than comedy, assuming/assigning accountability for the function Germany performed in serving to George W. Bush settle a rating with Saddam Hussein, director Johannes Naber’s nutso sendup of the unreliable intelligence supply whose testimony served because the justification for the U.S. to invade Iraq in 2003 has no hassle being outrageous. The problem comes right down to being humorous within the course of.
A couple of years again, Matthias Bittner made an excellent documentary about Rafid Alwan, code identify “Curveball,” known as “Warfare of Lies,” and that movie takes a grim, serious-minded have a look at what motivated this former Iraqi chemical engineer to hawk fantasies of weapons of mass destruction to German authorities. In change for a European passport, lodging and a modest revenue, Alwan gave the authorities precisely what they needed, by no means imagining that his little fibs can be cited as proof — the one proof — wanted to bomb the bejesus out of his homeland.
“What’s fact?” inquires “Curveball” on the outset. Aiming for the fast-paced, irreverent tone that appears to return so simply to political swashbucklers Armando Iannucci (“Veep”) and Chris Morris (“4 Lions”) over within the U.Ok., Naber and co-writer Oliver Keidel wrestle to seek out the fitting tone. They’ve based mostly their screenplay in intensive analysis, which is obvious within the absurdist particulars they select to incorporate, though the film stumbles usually into slapstick, and its try at biting repartee comes off even clumsier than the bodily comedy a lot of the time. Regardless of the title — which has change into some extent of rivalry, to the extent that the movie was offered as “Untitled” on the Berlin Movie Competition amid rumblings of a lawsuit by an American firm — the principle character isn’t Curveball however Dr. Arndt Wolf (Sebastian Blomberg), an obsessive bioweapons knowledgeable.
Like dogged conspiracy theorist Fox Mulder of “The X-Recordsdata,” Wolf desires to imagine. We meet him in 1997, 4 years earlier than the World Commerce Middle assault, scouring Iraq with a multinational inspection group exasperated by their incapacity to seek out weapons of mass destruction. This prologue establishes not solely how desperately Wolf yearns to be proved proper, but in addition his sketchy ethics: Whereas on task, he’s having an affair with Leslie (Virginia Kull), his CIA counterpart. Like Blomberg, who’s removed from leading-man materials, Kull’s character actually requires a stronger actor, since these two will change into key figures within the Curveball story post-9/11, when the U.S. begins in search of any justification to invade Iraq.
Again in Germany, Wolf’s supervisors on the nation’s Federal Intelligence Service, the BND, name him in to judge the person they’re calling Curveball, performed by first-season “Sport of Thrones” vet Dar Salim with the tough-to-trust unctuousness of a used automobile vendor. Alwan is charming, however he doesn’t precisely encourage confidence, guzzling Coca-Cola in portions extra poisonous than any chemical Saddam may be manufacturing again dwelling. Alwan is a scientist, and he speaks the identical language as Wolf (because it seems, he’s lifting some ideas — together with the thought of cellular weapons laboratories — immediately from Wolf’s personal revealed stories), feeding his interrogators what they need to hear.
These early scenes are irritating and really feel considerably strained as Naber skewers the BND’s gullibility whereas floating the concept Germany’s total intelligence operation suffers from an elaborate inferiority advanced. In line with this pondering, Curveball represents a beneficial asset for an company that merely can’t compete with the sources and expertise of the Individuals, and when 9/11 occurs, they discover themselves holding an ace. By no means thoughts that nearly nothing Alwan has instructed them checks out, or that his speculative diagram of Saddam’s cellular labs seems like one thing a kindergarten pupil might need scrawled in crayon.
Wolf believes him, and calling upon Leslie for a favor meant to corroborate his testimony, he by chance suggestions the BND’s hand. Earlier than he is aware of it, Leslie is pulling rank, attempting to steal his supply and remodeling Curveball’s sketch into one thing that Secretary of State Colin Powell can current to the U.N. as a believable cause to invade Iraq. Thus far, so scintillating, though “Curveball” goes off the rails within the remaining third as Wolf instantly develops a conscience and decides to intercede immediately on Alwan’s behalf.
Audiences already know what occurred on the macro stage: Bush bombed the heck out of Baghdad, regardless of that no WMDs had been ever recovered and no credible connection existed between Iraq and al-Qaida’s assault on the World Commerce Middle. Curveball was by no means the catalyst however merely a footnote within the administration’s foregone plan to invade Iraq. On one hand, this entire backstory is way too necessary to be taken so casually, and but, on the identical time, Germany appears to be flattering itself that any of this issues. What all of this taught us is that if an American president desires to begin an unlawful conflict, he doesn’t want justification however conviction, and nobody can cease him.
So all of it feels slightly petty — extra annoying than amusing — for a film to care fairly a lot what occurs to Alwan after the harm has been performed, whereas better powers are inflicting untold casualties on one other stage solely. However “Curveball’s” screwball premise assumes that audiences will get pleasure from watching bumbling chase sequences and slapstick routines wherein Wolf goes to excessive lengths to rescue Alwan from the Individuals. If something feels damning (past weak cut-downs of currywurst and different easy-target German traditions), it’s the implication that BND brass knew their stories had been incorrect however most popular to not contradict the Individuals. The movie ends by reminding that the group’s then-chief of employees now serves as Germany’s federal president, though that ought to shock nobody. Historical past is written by the victors, whereas satires actually should be written by cleverer wits than these.