Alec Baldwin deserves the most credit for Nuremberg, Turner Network Television's dramatic miniseries about the international tribunal that tried World War II's Nazi war criminals. The brightest star in this production, the actor was also one of five executive producers behind the camera.
Based on the book, Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial, this four-hour "TNT Original" recreation of a bona fide trial of the century depicts Adolf Hitler's No. 2 man, Hermann Goering, well played by Brian Cox, as a formidable courtroom foe for lead prosecutor Robert Jackson (Baldwin).
Most of the initial installment details how the Allies form their war-crimes tribunal and how war-torn Nuremberg, Germany, becomes the trial site. In the city deemed "the spiritual center of the Third Reich," Jackson's team assembles 22 members of the Nazi high command as the defendants.
But once in court, the prosecutors start awkwardly, dwelling so heavily on documents that Goering complains, "Justice Jackson means to bore us to death." Christopher Plummer, portraying the British prosecutor, warns Jackson, "A trial is a show, like it or not."
To put a human face on the charges, the team then calls witnesses and offers a horrific film of holocaust victims. Shown near the end of the opener, that same film was presented at the actual trial 55 years ago.
Jackson and Goering are well matched in this courtroom battle between good and evil. Each gets his time in the spotlight, both in real life and in this dramatization.
At first, Goering is so imposing that a shaken Jackson considers resigning, until the team's sole woman, Elsie Douglas-in Jill (Law & Order) Hennessy's most effective scene-asks him who believes more in his ideals, Jackson or Goering.
Baldwin is at his best in delivering the opening and closing statements, while Plummer's moment comes when he movingly re-creates an eyewitness' view of a scene in which Jews are executed near a mass grave.
Among other cast members, Max von Sydow gets star billing for little more than a cameo-unlike Matt Craven and Michael Ironside, who offer much stronger portrayals as the American psychologist and the Nazis' jailer, respectively.
To its credit, Nuremberg probes the war criminals' minds through the psychologist, who finds some prisoners troubled by their deeds, although most adamantly stick to the "just-following-orders" defense.
Outside court, a romance blooms between the married Jackson and Douglas. But after having woven that thread throughout, the producers surprisingly leave the outcome hanging.
TNT's Nuremberg two-parter is due July 16 and 17 at 8 p.m.