Saturday, November 28, 2009

Downfall (2004)

There are a lot of movies about World War Two, and most of them focus almost exclusively on Nazi Germany. Granted, it is, by far, the most interesting time and place of the 20th century, and possibly of the last couple hundred years, but, in my opinion, the constant onslaught of world war 2 movies has watered down the menacing effect of the Nazi’s onscreen presence, and, like many once-great things, it’s become a cliché.

That isn’t to say there aren’t exceptions, because for every ten crappy world war two films, there is one shining light in the darkness. Examples include 2003’s ‘The Pianist’ and 2008’s ‘Val Kyrie’ (yes, I liked that movie), but my favorite of the bunch is easily the 2004 epic ‘Downfall’.

This movie is simply incredible. It takes place during the final days of the war in Europe, when the Russians were closing in on Berlin and Germany was on the brinks of defeat. As the streets of Berlin are bombed to ruins, Hitler and his generals gather in their bunker, optimistically planning Germany’s next move, only to discover that their situation is hopeless, and the noose around their necks grows tighter with every passing second.

The acting in this film is phenomenal. Adolf Hitler, usually portrayed as an inhuman entity void of any emotions other than hate, is represented here as a human, a completely delusional human, but a human nonetheless. He is a complex individual, constantly alternating between emotions, whether they be anger, fear, love, or regret. At first, he’s stubborn, not wanting to accept the dismal outcome of his great war, but eventually, he accepts his fate, but in a most unorthodox way. In scenes of insanity and paranoia, Hitler declares that neither he, nor any other German, should be allowed to live after their defeat, believing that, since they have proved to be inferior, they don’t deserve to live. It’s an incredible character study, with a great performance by Bruno Ganz. If you’re interested in Hitler, and who he was as an individual, then you’ll find this film very interesting.

The film doesn’t focus exclusively on Hitler, though. It also explores the feelings and situations of those around him during that time, including his generals, his girlfriend, his secretary, and a group of children. As their leader goes insane, everyone in this group must decide whether to follow him into suicide, or to disobey their once-glorious leader. It’s a predicament that leads to many dramatic situations, including one particularly powerful scene involving the children, which is both haunting and disturbingly real.

In fact, everything in this film is astonishingly real. The claustrophobic sets make the environment look as cold and unforgiving as the characters that inhabit them, as does the brilliant lighting schemes, particularly in the bunker.

Though there aren’t many battle scenes, the movie never fails to lose the audience’s attention, and there’s plenty here to sink your teeth into. If you’re a fan of war films, or just great cinema in general, look no further than Downfall, a film I’d give a perfect 10/10.

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