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Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel ("Das Experiment").
Written by Bernd Eichinger.  Based on a novel by Joachim Fest.
Starring Bruno Ganz and Alexandra Maria Lara.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  3/22/05


You know that a film based on a novel called "Inside Hitler's Bunker" isn't going to be a pick-me-up...but, damn, even when you have to sit through a long, subtitled film, something this intense takes a hold of you and doesn't let go.

Based on the last ten days of Hitler's life--in the last month of World War II--"Downfall" follows the Nazi leader around in his Berlin-based war bunker as the Allies are putting the finishing touches on finishing off the SS and its troops and trying to find the chief bad guy.  (I guess I shouldn't judge a guy I didn't really know...actually, yeah, I should.)  Most of the film takes place underground, as we watch Hitler (played with crazed eyes and furious anger by Bruno Ganz) finish his downward spiral as he tries to reason with his generals in plotting last-ditch efforts to stave off the inevitable.  Meanwhile, Hitler's secretary, Traudl (Alexandra Maria Lara), a 20-something German woman that has obviously stumbled upon a poor career move, tries to help some of those stuck in the bunker with the situation at hand as well as figure out just how to escape 20 years of prison time for being associated with the most evil bastard on the planet.

"Downfall" gets you interested by watching Hitler lose it over the course of a few days as his empire is falling to pieces...but, I think it was the mix of the Hitler story and the secretary subplot that made the whole film so intriguing.  Every time I had to look at Traudl, as she tries to make sense of just what kind of hell she has signed up for, I just felt sorry for her even though I was acutely aware that this was just a movie.  Lara has these eyes that evoke pity in a way I hadn't felt in a while, odd since we ARE talking about freakin' Nazis here.  As the situation in the bunker gets crazier and crazier, you want for her to find a way out of the damned thing but then you realize it--her country is in ruins, her family might be dead, she's got nothing in the way of cash or means to support herself...WTF??

But, Ganz's performance as Hitler is the best part of "Downfall"; plainly, he's playing the anti-Christ, but because he is clearly beaten and left to act all crazy as he waits for the Russian troops to overrun his Berlin and take what little he has left, you get to see a little bit of humanity from the guy, even if this is a fictionalized retelling of what were possibly his last moments underground.  Little touches, like the way Hitler thanks the women on his staff or seems appreciative of real effort on the part of his generals, are handled well, and are interspersed nicely between a skirmish here or there out in the streets of Berlin.  Whenever Hitler loses it in his war room, as he stubbornly orders attacks and flanking assignments of his strapped forces, Ganz brings a strong intensity to the work and is an instant wake-up call for anyone dozing during the film's long running time.

"Downfall" is not for the weak; there are a number of whoa moments in this one, be it improvisational surgery sequences (hey, is that a hacksaw?) or the increasingly-frequent suicides that consume Nazi officers as their fate becomes more and more clear.  But, if you can get beyond that, it's a solid historical effort on the part of these filmmakers and you should definitely run out and catch this one while it's making a run through American theaters.

Rating:  Opening Weekend


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09