Let's get right to it: Hannah Arendt is a solid biopic. Yes, it's about a philosopher; yes, philosophers do not usually live exciting lives; yes, the film could not avoid being a bit talky. But you must understand that the real surprise would have been if Barbara Sukowa (she plays Arendt) and Margarethe von Trotta (the director), two veterans of the German film industry, failed to make a movie that was at least half interesting.
Now, who was Hannah Arendt? She was once a student and lover of the king of 20th-century German philosophy, Martin Heidegger; she taught at the New School in New York for many years; and she wrote a number of books, the most famous of which, Eichmann in Jerusalem, is at the center of this film. Two controversial points are made in this book: One, the SS officer Adolf Eichmann, who in the early 1960s was captured by Mossad and put on trial in Jerusalem for crimes against humanity, was not a devil but a big bore who had no imagination (from this insight we get the famous expression "the banality of evil"). Two, Jewish leaders did not help their people but helped the Nazis kill them.
You can imagine the enormous shitstorm these claims generated—Arendt received death threats and was called a self-hating Jew. To make matters worse, she publicly defended her former lover, Heidegger, who had not only been a card-carrying Nazi but wanted to be Hitler's philosopher. The Heidegger side of this film is a bit flat, and the same goes for the scenes concerning the trial. What really makes this movie are the scenes that capture Arendt's New York world—her Manhattan apartment, her office, her classroom, her intellectual discussions, her constant smoking. Indeed, the amount of smoking that goes on in this film will just amaze you.