A plot to assassinate Hitler is the focus of this respectable drama
Georg Elser could have changed the course of history. In November 1939, Elser placed a bomb in a Munich hall where Adolf Hitler was scheduled to speak. The Führer left the building just 13 minutes before the fatal detonation, leaving us to ponder what might have been.
Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s 13 Minutes deliberately sidelines the tension and intrigue in Elser’s actions. Instead, he focuses on the aftermath of his capture when Elser (played here by The White Ribbon's Christian Friedel) became the inconvenient prisoner of a state unable to countenance that he had acted alone, or that he was motivated purely by a conviction that Hitler was bad for Germany.
It is a handsomely crafted, perfectly decent period drama and a partial return to form for Hirschbiegel after ill-advised English-language ventures like Diana and The Invasion. It still leaves a good deal of potentially interesting material unexplored, including the matter of why Elser wasn’t executed until 1945. Consequently, 13 Minutes is never as compelling as the subject matter deserves.
Elser’s interrogation at the hands of police chief Nebe (Burghart Klaußner) and Gestapo officer Müller (Johann von Bülow) provokes a succession of flashbacks charting how a simple musician / carpenter and apolitical idealist became a potential assassin. Elser’s experiences throughout the 1930s also serve to mirror how Germany surrendered to the grip of the Nazis. It is an ambitious intent that inevitably seems simplistic in the space of a single film that also has to find room for Elser’s great love Elsa (Katharina Schüttler).
Friedel brings charm and conviction to Elser, capturing a sense of the righteous anger and awakening of an ordinary individual who gradually discovers the hero inside himself. His performance is one of the virtues of a respectable but slightly underwhelming production.
Selected release from Fri 17 Jul.