13 Minutes

13-minutes-rev 13 Minutes  (2015)    Sony Pictures Classics/Drama    RT: 114 minutes    Rated R (disturbing violence including torture, some sexuality)    Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel    Screenplay: Fred Breinersdorfer and Leonie-Claire Breinersdorfer    Music: David Holmes    Cinematography: Judith Kaufmann    Release date: July 14, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Christian Friedel, Katharina Schuttler, Burghart Klaubner, Johann von Bulow, David Zimmerschied, Rudiger Klink, Simon Licht, Cornelia Kondgen, Martin Maria Abram, Michael Kranz, Gerti Drassl, Lissy Pernthaler, Valentina Repetto, Anna Unterberger.    Spoken in German w/English subtitles


 All that stood between Adolph Hitler and death via an assassination attempt on November 8, 1939 (the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch) was thirteen minutes. Georg Elser planted a time bomb at the Burgerbraukeller in Munich were Hitler would be delivering his annual speech. His intention was to kill Hitler and several other high-ranking Nazi officials; it might have worked if Hitler hadn’t left the building thirteen minutes before the bomb went off. He was summarily captured, interrogated and held prisoner before being executed just weeks before the war ended. It took decades for Germany to recognize him as a hero of the Resistance.

13 minutes It took even longer for somebody to make a movie about him. With 13 Minutes, that injustice has been remedied. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, it’s absolutely riveting account of a man who stood by watching what was happening to his homeland until he could no longer abide it and decided to do something about it. After garnering massive acclaim for 2004’s Downfall which depicted Hitler’s final days, Hirschbiegel experienced a professional dip with a string of failures that includes the fourth (and most pointless) Body Snatchers update The Invasion, the dull IRA redemption drama Five Minutes in Heaven and the terrible Princess Diana biopic Diana. 13 Minutes ought to put his career back on track. It’s an outstanding film.

 It jumps back and forth between scenes of Elser (Friedel, The White Ribbon) being tortured by Nazi officials into revealing his accomplices and a look back at his life and what caused the previously “non-political” woodworker/musician to act. The torture scenes are brutal and graphic not to mention unnecessary as there was nothing to reveal. Elser acted alone. He smuggled the materials from his job at a steel factory. He built the device himself. He planted it himself. His interrogators, police chief Arthur Nebe (Klaubner, Good Bye Lenin) and Gestapo head Heinrich Muller (Bulow, Labyrinth of Lies), eventually believe his story. Their superiors, however, are not convinced. There must have been a conspiracy, so says Hitler and Goebbels who want a story that fits their martyr narrative, all the better to gain the support and sympathy of the German populace. In time of war, truth is indeed the first casualty.

 13 Minutes takes us back to 1932 when Elser was somewhat naive and carefree. He lives in a village by Lake Constance where he plays his accordion and chases girls. He’s called back to his home village by his mother after his drunkard father sells off valuable plots of land. Things have changed since he left. He’s greeted by a little boy who spouts Nazi rhetoric to which Elser asks, “When did you get to be a moron all of a sudden?” One of the movie’s most effective aspects is in its depiction of the Nazi poison seeping into the provinces, abetted by bigots who agree with Hitler’s ethnic cleansing ideas. Elser is understandably appalled and takes a quiet stance against the new status quo even though it makes him an outcast. He invites further scandal by becoming romantically involved with Elsa (Schuttler, A Coffee in Berlin), a married woman whose drunk of a husband routinely beats her. At one point, he rents a room at their house.

 Some have accused 13 Minutes of sentimentalizing its subject but that’s simply not the case. It rightfully portrays Elser as a hero who unapologetically stood up against a powerful enemy he had no chance of beating. Whether he succeeded or not, he knew he’d be caught and executed. In the role, Friedel does a tremendous job. He depicts Elser as a regular guy, one of questionable moral character, who was moved to action by what he saw as a grave injustice. He regrets, of course, that his action cost the lives of eight innocent people none of whom were his targets. I like that Hirschbiegel makes the events understandable without trivializing them. We get a good understanding of the workings of the Nazi-era political machine. He even depicts Nebe with a smidge of humanity. History buffs will, of course, recognize him as one of the conspirators in a subsequent assassination attempt against Hitler in ’44 (dramatized in 2008’s Valkyrie).

 13 Minutes is positively compelling from start to finish. It’s not just a portrait of a long-unappreciated hero; it’s also a scary and accurate depiction of how easily evil can permeate a society if left unchecked. I’m sure many saw Hitler for what he was but were too scared to say or do anything for fear of swift, painful retribution. It moves at a nice pace. The editing is well-done. It recreates the period with great authenticity. It’s one of those movies you’ll be sorry you missed. It’s really that good! 

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