The film features interviews from people for and against Barbie's actions, from journalists to former U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps agents to independent investigators of Nazi war crimes to Barbie's defense attorney. Much of the testimony presented is contradictory. Many of the film's interview subjects allege that Barbie was brought to trial as a figurehead; many others allege that Barbie was allowed to go free for forty years as a result of the protection of various governments, including that of the United States and that of Bolivia, because Barbie knew secret agents and, if brought to trial, could jeapordize various counterintelligence operations.
Nonetheless, within the course of the film, Barbie is brought to trial and sentenced to life in prison; near the end of the film, Barbie's defense attorney vows to appeal the decision.
The film explores a number of themes, including the notion of evil and the diffusion of responsibility in hierarchical situations. It won the 1989 Academy Award for Documentary Feature as well as the 1988 FIPRESCI Award at the Cannes Film Festival.