Combustible Celluloid
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With: Bruno Ganz, Alexandra Maria Lara, Ulrich Matthes, Juliane Kohler, Thomas Kretschmann, Heino Ferch, Christian Berkel, Matthias Habich, Corinna Harfouch, Ulrich Noethen
Written by: Bernd Eichinger, based on the book by Joachim C. Fest, Melissa Müller and Traudl Junge
Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, disturbing images and some nudity
Language: German, Russian with English subtitles
Running Time: 155
Date: 03/18/2013

Downfall (2004)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sympathy for the Devil

By Rob Blackwelder, SPLICEDwire

For those not already versed in the lore of Adolf Hitler's final days, the intimacy, immediacy and bunker-mentality minutia of Downfall may make for truly engrossing cinema. A detailed, historically accurate account that bears witness as the psychotic dreams of a 1,000-year Third Reich slip away from its increasingly paranoid Fuehrer, this bravely matter-of-fact German epic features uniformly powerful performances and is an eerie, vivid realization of gray-walled claustrophobia and the terror of saturation bombing. (The camera shakes in a uniquely unsettling, knock-you-off-your-bearings way with each mortar shell.)

The fantastic Bruno Ganz (best known in the US for Wings of Desire) plays Hitler with a broken kind of humanity that makes his evil subtler than expected, but by extension all the more chilling. His senior staff is accounted for nearly every moment of the detailed film, but none of them stands out except Ulrich Matthes as psychotically loyal propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, and Corinna Harfouch as his wife. She has the film's most disturbing scene, poisoning her children to "save" them from growing up in a world without National Socialism.

But while director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Das Experiment) very effectively takes you deep inside Nazi Germany's crumbling heart and brings acutely to life many infamous moments, his film doesn't offer much in the way of new insight. The script is more of a textbook play-by-play than an examination of impulses and psyches, and while Hirschbiegel and his cast add those dimensions through their fine work, it seems the only way he could invest the audience in these events was by seeking out a sympathetic minor character -- in the person of Traudl Junge, Hitler's young secretary -- and beefing up her significance.

The film is based in part on Junge's accounts of events, and actress Alexandra Maria Lara rises to the occasion, but the woman's continued willful naiveté, and her loyalty and affection for her Fuehrer, makes Traudl far less sympathetic than was clearly intended.

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