Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel ("Das
Written by Bernd Eichinger. Based on a novel by
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
"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 bad...man, 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
"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