'No one has ever been tried in the West for escaping from the East' announces Sheen early in this docudrama based upon the trial of two East German citizens who in 1978 hijacked a plane to defect to the 'free West' - or did they? Tried under American jurisdiction, their case rose to notoriety when presiding judge Herbert J Stern refused to yield to political pressure, and granted Helmut Thiele and Sigrid Radke the right to trial by jury. Penn's adaptation of Stern's book is an uncertain affair, an intriuging courtroom drama marred by heavy-handed pathos and symbolic flag-waving. Sheen hams it up as Stern, delivering Lincoln-esque speeches about freedom while gazing meaningfully at newsreels of refugees. 'I'm just trying to understand these people', he tells his German-hating Jewish wife (Rose), who soon tires of the whole performance. Hoenig and Speidel are admirable as the errant Easterners, but the real surprise is Sean Penn, whose portrayal of a recently liberated, hesitant student is exemplary.
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